Steer Your Ship!

boat1I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three ways to live: you can live without any dreams, you can be a dreamer, or you can have dreams and dance those dreams into reality. You can either take the initiative to design your own life, or you can let circumstances and other people mold your life for you. What you’ll end up with is something akin to a manufactured product, rather than something definitive and organic—but, hey, you’ll have made the choice. Right?

It’s easy to shrug off things like positive thinking if we’ve been living with our negative thought patterns for a long time. They’ve almost become a source of comfort to us—something that we rely upon, and maybe even use as an excuse for the times when we do not measure up to the expectations that other people have of us. Perhaps it’s easier to say, “Well, what did  you expect of me? I’m just a born loser anyway!” when we disappoint a parent, friend, or partner.

The problem is, although at first our subconscious rejects these thoughts, after awhile, we begin to accept them as a reality. If we tell ourselves that we’re overweight or unattractive for a long enough period of time, even if we’re slim, fit, and extremely good-looking, we will begin to  develop a very poor self-image. I read about a situation in which a woman went to a plastic surgeon to have her nose fixed. She had always felt that she was tremendously unattractive because of what she perceived to be an ugly nose. Well, even though the surgeon gave her the nose that she had always dreamed of having, she was unable to see herself as being pretty because she was still holding onto the image of herself as an unattractive person.  

The truth is, no matter how much time or money you spend on your appearance to try to make yourself beautiful or attractive, unless you alter your perception of yourself, you will continue to see the same person you’ve always seen when you look into the mirror. Similarly, even if you have several degrees and academic accolades, if you persist in imagining yourself to be stupid, you will continue to see yourself as stupid, in spite of your level of education and/or academic excellence. And how you see yourself directly determines how you will behave. If you think you are not deserving of an opportunity that comes your way, you will manage to reject it, whether you intend to or not. For example, if  you are an actress and you have a chance to audition for an important part in a top-notch play, how you succeed at that audition will probably be determined by how worthy you think you are of getting the part. If you walk into the audition slumping, holding your head down, walking timidly or if your voice is soft and weak, the message you’ll be sending to everyone is: “I know I don’t really deserve to be here, but I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Remember how Barbra Streisand auditioned for “I Can Get it For You Wholesale”?  She went into that theater like she already owned the place.  No one had to wonder whether or not Barbra had confidence—it was evident how much self-assurance she had by how she moved, how she talked, and how she walked. She exuded self-confidence. And I have the feeling that even if Barbra hadn’t felt as confident as she acted like she was, she would have behaved exactly the same way. Why? Well, like all of those who are at the top of their field, Barbra understands that those around her are going to value her at the same level at which she values herself.

You really cannot expect other people to give you respect and to admire you if you don’t respect and admire yourself. If you question all your choices and berate yourself for every mistake you make, what message are you sending out to other people? Do you realize that you’re automatically causing them to make judgments about you? When you put limits on yourself and decide what you are or are not capable of, you will soon find that those around you start to agree with you. Instead of saying to you, “You can do it”, they’ll start to doubt that you actually can do what you say you want to do. They’ll begin to suspect that you know yourself better than they do. . .and that you are right in thinking that you have limited capabilities.

If you have demonstrated a pattern of failing or of not living up to other peoples’ expectations of you, you have an added challenge to contend with. It’s sometimes difficult enough to get people to believe in you and your endeavors when you’ve had a great deal of success in the past. But, when you’ve been someone who has consistently disappointed those who wanted to have faith in you, you’ll probably discover that getting to the point where people have confidence in you will take both time and patience.

One of the books that meant a lot to me when I was growing up was by a violinist named Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. It was called On My Way. Nadja is a fiercely tenacious woman with a strong will and an indomitable spirit. When you hear her play in person, you sense that you are in the presence of an amazing musician. Her playing is electric. She is passionate about music, and her love for the violin shines through every note she plays. But there was a time when Nadja’s vibrant spirit and tenacity were not enough. Although she had the talent to accomplish remarkable things, she lacked the essential level of commitment. She was too busy focusing on the aspects of her life that were inessential. . .the distractions. . .the things that brought her short-term gratification. And, she had to pay the consequences of this behavior. Her teacher at the Juilliard School, the world-renowned Dorothy DeLay, informed Nadja that she need not come back for another lesson until she decided whether or not she really wanted to be a concert violinist. At the time, Nadja had been planning to enter The 1981 Walter W. Naumburg International Violin Competition. However, DeLay scoffed at the idea, telling her that she was certain she wouldn’t even be accepted to enter the competition.

Essentially, Nadja had two choices. She could either let her teacher’s words become a reality for her, or she could turn things around and go after what she wanted, no matter who told her it was impossible. Nadja chose to ignore her teacher. She abandoned the undisciplined habits she had been adopting and completely transformed her life. For a few months, she locked herself in a room and practiced for hours, only leaving to go to the kitchen for the two meals she let herself have each day. To simplify things, she chose to eat nothing but canned sausages and ice cream. By the time the date of the competition arrived, Nadja had brought her playing to a level of excellence that was truly phenomenal. She had also lost fifteen pounds. And, rather than simply being someone who participated in the Naumburg Competition, Nadja ended up winning the top prize! The impact this event had on her career was tremendous. It’s doubtful that the opportunities that have enabled her to become one of the world’s most renowned performers and recording artists today would have come her way had Nadja not won the prestigious competition.

But what if she had let Dorothy DeLay’s expectations of her became her own self-fulfilling prophecy? How would it have changed her life? Where would she be today? Would any of us even know who Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is? We can’t answer any of these questions with certainty, but one thing I do know for certain is that Nadja’s story presents a marvelous example of a woman who took charge of her own life. She wasn’t about to let someone steer her ship for her. She grabbed hold of the helm and took on the role of captain of  her ship.

What I want to know is. . .is there any reason that you shouldn’t do the same thing? The universe is like a fathomless, rough, beautiful, yet turbulent, ocean.  And your life is a ship on this ocean. The question is this: are you going to steer your ship, or are you going to let someone else steer it for you? Don’t imagine for a moment that your ship will steer itself. If you refuse to take on the role of captain, another person will take on that part for you—or a group of people will. Perhaps, a succession of people will steer your ship—friends, relatives, spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends—those who pass through your life for various lengths of time. Some of these people will probably support your dreams and goals, and others will make you feel like you’re incapable of doing much of anything. Even if you don’t let toxic individuals stay in your life for very long, if you aren’t at the helm of your ship, you’ll still be letting anyone and everyone who comes into your life have some influence on it, whether it’s a lasting impact or not.

When I was growing up, my father frequently made comments to me about my being worthless, unattractive, and inadequate. Although part of me knew that there were things about me that must make me valuable, I wasn’t steering my own ship. Rather, my father was at the helm. And, even after my parents separated and later divorced, I let other people take over my ship rather than grabbing hold of it myself. I chose not to take on the role of the captain—I chose to turn over the power that was rightfully mine to other people. I could tell you that I simply didn’t know I was supposed to do anything else, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Although I was conditioned to believe that I had a multitude of inadequacies, I think I let myself subscribe to toxic thought patterns even when I knew they were wrong. And in letting myself be nourished on toxic thoughts, I was automatically depriving myself of having control over my life. A person who thinks his/her capabilities are limited or that he/she is essentially without value will never imagine that he/she will be able to steer his/her own ship. If they don’t rely on other people to steer it, then they’ll turn to things such as alcohol, drugs, or food to help them cope with what they perceive to be an overwhelming responsibility. On a short-term basis, these vices can numb us. They can distract us and/or make us forget that we have problems in our lives that we need to deal with. But, what happens when we stop drinking or when the drugs wear off? What do things look like when we’ve just finished the latest eating binge? Did that gallon of butter pecan ice cream you polished off make you feel any stronger? Do you feel better physically? Are you happier?  Or, do you feel that once again you’ve tried to find a way to escape from the reality of you life? If so, is that truly the way you want to live?

There have been plenty of alcoholics who had big dreams, and there have been drug addicts who have died of overdoses with most of their potential still inside them. Even though we may never know what lifetime goals people such as musician Kurt Cobain and actors Heath Ledger and River Phoenix had, it’s important that we understand that an early death or a life of destitution and poor health is something that can happen to anyone depending on the choices that he or she makes on a daily basis. Jim Belushi didn’t die because of the choices that other people made for him. His death was caused by an overdose of drugs that he made the choices to take. Sure, other people were probably at the helm of Belushi’s ship at one time or another, but whether he was captain of his ship or not, he ended up being a victim of his own unwise decisions.

The difference between those who end up living unfufilled lives or who succeed in being just another statistic and those who experience incredible succeess has much less to do with talent, education, experience, or ability than you might think. Yes, these things can help. However, what’s more important than anything else is the thoughts that you hold in your mind on a daily basis. It’s the image you have of yourself that will determine how you live your life. The classic film actor, Cary Grant, was once asked how he managed to retain his slim and sophisticated figure. He replied that he had always envisioned himself as slender. He once said: “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I finally became that person. Or he became me.”

Even if you don’t feel you have the power to steer your own ship, take on the role of captain starting today. See yourself as having the ability to move your ship in the right direction, even if those around you tell you you can’t do it. After all, it’s not important what others think of you and your capabilities—what ultimately determines whether or not you will succeed is the image you hold in your own mind of yourself.

So, toss your negative thoughts into the ocean, and start steering your ship towards your dreams, rather than away from them.

Live with passion, courage, and enthusiasm. . .and make each moment matter!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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If you would like my input on a specific situation, please write me at successdiva7@yahoo.com I will respond to your message at my earliest convenience.

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

when you reach a turning point. . .

turningpoint1There are moments in life when something happens that is so unexpected that we really don’t know how to cope with it. Whether it’s finding out that our boyfriend or girlfriend is seeing someone else or whether we just lost our pet dog or cat in a freak accident, there are those times when it’s as if something in our world has gone so wrong that everything else seems to be out of focus. I remember reading about how the actress, Jane Seymour, suffered an injury when she was pursuing a career as a ballerina, and all I could think was how catastrophic this event must have been for her. Of course, watching her in such films as “Somewhere in Time” and “Lassiter”, it’s difficult to imagine her as anything other than an actress. But that’s because she took an incident that could have brought an end to all her ambitions and turned it into something profitable. It reminds me of a passage I came across today from a poem called “Don’t Quit” by an unknown author. The passage was “Success is failure turned inside out.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought of success in those terms. I understand that failure and success are directly connected, and that you cannot have one without the other because rarely do we succeed at anything on the very first effort. But what I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended is what a turning point failure can be for us. One of my favorite actresses, Mary Pickford, once said, “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you.  You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing called ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  But how often do we really look at our failures in that light? How often do we acknowledge ourselves for picking ourselves back up after we fail?? Don’t we have a  habit of concentrating more on that which we fail at than on that which we succeed at? I know I do. If a relationship or a career doesn’t work out, it can diminish your sense of self-worth to such an extent, that there are moments when you actually feel a sense of overpowering hopelessness.

When I think of someone who has continued to strive in spite of not accomplishing her ultimate objective, the brilliant American figure skater, Michelle Kwan, immediately comes to mind. If you saw Michelle skate at the 1998 Olympic games, you probably remember the look of subtle disappointment on her face when she lost the gold medal to her American rival, Tara Lipinski.  Although a silver medal at the Olympics is scarcely something to feel ashamed of, an athlete with Kwan’s capabilities and work ethic is always somewhat chagrined when he/she doesn’t come in first. However, Michelle handled the situation like a pro. In fact, rather than allowing herself to get discouraged, she decided to bounce back.  At the 2002 Olympic games, she once again tried for that gold model, but again, it eluded her. This time, though, she ended up with the bronze model instead of the silver. The young American skater, Sarah Hughes, took the top prize. Do, did Kwan give up?? No. She made plans to try her luck yet a third time in the 2006 Olympic Games. It wasn’t until Kwan suffered a groin injury in her first practice session in Turin, Italy, that she withdrew from the competition. And Kwan is still talking about the possibility of competing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Now that’s the kind of attitude all of us should work towards!  “But Michelle Kwan’s persistence hasn’t really paid off,” you may be thinking. “I mean, she never did get that gold medal she wanted so badly.” No, Kwan didn’t get the gold medal. But I think she got something even more important. She got the kind of respect and deep admiration that only those who persist in the quest for their ultimate goal both deserve and receive. Indeed, Michelle Kwan remains a more reliable role model than either Tara Lipinski or Sarah Hughes, the two skaters who won gold medals at the Olympics she competed in. Perhaps, whether or not we win first prize isn’t as important as the attitude we demonstrate during the competition itself. And life is a bit like a competition, isn’t it?

As a diva of success, I would love to tell you that every one of your dreams will definitely come true. However, since I promised I would always be honest with you, I have to remind you that life gives us no guarantees. What it does give us is lessons, learning experiences, and role models. Those of you who know this diva over at Facebook have probably noticed that I’ve begun a photo album dedicated to women whom I consider to be “Icons of Inspiration.” Well, the group of inspirational women is so diverse that there aren’t that many things that many of the women have in common with each other. But there are a few fundamental character traits that they do all share. What are these traits? Well, all of them have or had an invincible belief in themselves and what they could accomplish. Even when they felt their faith in their talents and abilities was slipping, they managed to pull themselves together and move forward. Your success diva will be the first to tell you that sometimes you have to pretend to have more confidence in yourself than you actually feel. In other words, you have to adopt what I call an “as if” mentality. You act as if  you can accomplish that which you dream of achieving. You act as if  you have an optimisic outlook on life, even when you’re actually feeling despondent. You act as if  the man or woman of your dreams is right around the corner, even though a part of you believes that your soul mate must have gotten lost in another dimension. Do you see the point I’m making? To expect yourself to always be on top of the world simply isn’t realistic. There will be times when you feel like you’ve accomplished very few things in life that are of true significance, and you could feel this way even if you were an Oscar-winning actor/actress or a Nobel prize-winning author. Why? Well, it’s simply part of being human. The world we live in is chaotic and full of all sorts of of negative and cruel people, and circumstances are rarely going to be completely ideal. So, since we are human, we naturally react to the obstacles and crises that come into our lives in a way that isn’t always positive. Should we blame ourselves for this? To be honest, I think that doing so only makes things worse. It would be like blaming yourself for depression, when those of us who are well-informed know that there are many instances of depression in which psychiatric therapy and medication are essential. What you must do, though, is understand that the way in which you react to something can actually turn out to have as significant an impact on you as the event itself. “Wait,” you interject, “are you telling me that if a man/woman is raped, his/her reaction to that rape could have as momentous an affect on him/her as the rape itself?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. . .and, no, I haven’t suddenly lost all my reasoning abilities. Look, I know of women who have allowed an incident of rape to destroy the rest of their lives. There are also many women who have committed suicide after being raped. Does this mean I cannot comprehend their actions? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, I fully understand how a woman or woman who has been raped might feel like taking his or her own life. At the same time, for a victim of rape to take his or her own life means that the person who victimized him/her ultimately has the last word. On the other hand, for a someone who has survived rape to take that terrible catastrophe and turn it into something that benefits both himself/herself and others by doing volunteer work for groups that help counsel rape victims, for example, would mean that an event that could have been devastating would actually end up having a positive result.

I remember when I first heard the motivational speaker and author, Tony Robbins, talking about how our response to something can be as important as the event. I must admit,  I thought he was being utterly illogical at the time.  “Well, you can tell that nothing that bad has ever happened to Tony,” I found myself muttering. Yet as life has gone on, I have come to see Tony’s point. We truly can make a traumatic event a hundred times worse depending on how we react to it. An experience such as rape will always be horrendous no matter how someone responds to it. However, what should always be remembered is that no matter what someone else does to us it does not in any way diminish our self-worth. We may feel that something that someone tells us or does to us makes us less valuable as a person, but this is just a trick our mind is playing on us. It’s also something that the person who mistreats, abuses, or violates us wants us to feel. Why?? Well, that’s one of those questions that I’m reluctant to answer. I always think that those who hurt us, whether it be through their words or their actions, are hurting within themselves. But I don’t think that explanation justifies anything, which means it is scarcely satisfactory, even though there are times at which it can be a source of comfort. The truth is, we will probably never begin to understand why certain people do certain things. As one of my friends reminded me a couple of hours ago, this is an unjust world we live in. So, all that each of us can do is try to treat others with kindness and fairness, whether they treat us the same way or not.

One reason that I can speak with authority on the subject of turning what seems like a failure into a success is because I’ve had to continue to do this throughout my life. I trained for a concert career on the violin beginning at age three, only to be told at age 17 that such a career was impossible because I had a chronic illness called lupus. Did I have a nervous breakdown? Well, no, but I came pretty close to having one. For a couple of years after I had to give up playing the violin, I couldn’t even listen to any of the recordings I owned of violin music. Unfortunately, my sense of self-worth was entirely connected with the violin, and without it, I felt as if I had no real value as a person. It has only been through my accomplishments in other avenues that I have re-established my self-confidence. Although I am blessed to have a mother who has taught me to believe that who I am as a person is far more important than what I do, it has always been difficult for me to separate my personal value from my achievements. I don’t think the materialistic, career-driven world we live in tends to instill in people the sense that such traits as integrity, honesty, and compassion are far more important than how much money you make each year or what kind of car you drive. And yet, unless we start to understand this ourselves, how will we ever teach those who look up to us—-such as our children, if we have them—-what’s really important in life?? When I mentioned Michelle Kwan earlier, another thing I intended to say about her is that she has never compromised who she is simply to get ahead. Yes, she has won two Olympic medals, but I have always had the sense that she would rather be seen as an icon of grace and elegance of spirit than as merely another Olympic medalist. Audrey Hepburn is another lady who had her priorities in order. In spite of the fact that she could easily have acted in dozens of films throughout the 1960s and 1970s, she chose to devote herself to being the best mother that she could. I guess we don’t have to wonder why her son, Sean Ferrer, speaks with such lavish praise about his mother! And this is why it’s so crucial that we stand back and view our lives from a long-term perspective, rather than being sidetracked and discouraged by the setbacks of the moment. Only those who fail to strengthen their inner spirit allow themselves to see any failure as being permanent. Those who understand that life is a like a corridor, in which some doors open while others close, know that resilience is an integral part of success. I think actress Brooke Shields summed up the philosophy that all of us should adopt when she said, “If one window closes, run to the next window—-or break down a door.” Well, this is what your Success Diva advises you to do, too. The only way that a failure can have any lasting impact on your life is if you let it become permanent. So, no matter what happens, don’t let yourself be defeated. Begin to see each failure as a turning point in your life.  .  .as a mere curve in the road that will eventually lead you to the life of your dreams.

If you haven’t yet joined my mailing list, you can subscribe at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/successdiva  This is an announcement list, which means no participation is necessary. Also, I am always available and eager to help anyone with a specific situation they want my input on. Write me at successdiva7@yahoo.com, and I will respond at my earliest convenience.

Live with passion and enthusiasm. . .and remember, it’s only too late to create the life of your dreams if you believe it is!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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

The present is yours

gift2

 

 

I have been very personal with everyone so far. In fact, I have gone out of my way to present everything from a personal perspective. This means, of course, that I share a lot about myself with all of you—some of you being people I have never met and probably never will meet. So, why am I sharing so much so freely?? It’s because I care about every one of you, even if I don’t know your name. The fact that you are reading this blog lets me know that you want to change your life, and this means that you and I have a lot in common. We are already what some people would call ‘kindred spirits’ whether you realize it or not. I use that phrase knowing that it is used too often and that sometimes it is not regarded with enough sincerity. If you loathe that phrase, forget this diva ever used it.

In keeping with sharing so many of my personal thoughts and feelings with all of you, I have a confession. There has already been more than one day this very month that I would call “one of the worst days of my life.” Yeah, we all have them, don’t we? And sometimes, after a good night’s sleep, we’re fortunate enough to view the world once more as a place that feels the warmth of the sun. Then again, there are times in our lives in which we have several bad days in succession. These are the really tough times, aren’t they? The times when even lots of sleep and eating your favorite flavor of ice cream doesn’t seem to help. Even watching one of your favorite films—a film that would usually make you laugh or cry or inspire you—leaves you feeling numb. I tend to think that there is a state of despair that is beyond sadness. Sadness can be dreadful when it is severe, and crying for several hours can wear you out. But what is worse than that, I think, is a feeling of numbness. It’s a feeling where you have reached your threshold of emotional or mental pain, and your body just closes down. Nothing really even moves you because nothing can—you have shut off your emotions. At times like these, even the death of a loved one might not affect you. In fact, the death of a loved one can actually bring about a feeling of numbness. The thing that’s frightening about that numb feeling is that you wonder if you are still fully alive. You wonder if a part of you—something that is essential to who you are—has died. Do I sound like I am fully familiar with this feeling? If so, it’s because I am.

You know, there are times when I know I am not having the right attitude towards life, and I have the idea that many of you have experienced this, too. Have there not been hours, days, and maybe even weeks when, rather than feeling grateful for all the blessings in your life, you have chosen to focus on all the problems instead? If there haven’t been, I admire you! In fact, I rather envy you. I would very much like to be one of those persons who always, without fail, had a wonderful attitude. The exceptional motivational speaker and author, Keith Harrell, wrote a book called Attitude Is Everything. I have recommended the book to strangers before—that is how impressed I was by it. It’s actually been a few years since I read it from cover to cover, but every now and then I pick it up—usually when my own attitude leaves a lot to be desired. I do think Keith Harrell has a point, but sometimes. . .well, isn’t it just almost impossible to transform a negative attitude into a positive one? Well.  .  .I think it can certainly seem impossible, particularly when we don’t stop to analyze why our attitude is so negative. Obviously, if our beloved pet has just died or our fiance/fiancee has broken up with us, we know why we’re feeling lousy. But are there not times when a bad attitude just seems to come out of the blue? I’ll admit that generally the cause is right under our nose. . .and right before our eyes. We also tend to have a tendency to take our less-than-wonderful attitude out on other people, usually people whom we know will love us no matter how badly we act. The problem is, of course, that inflicting our own pain on other people is only going to make us feel worse. Or haven’t you noticed? *wink* Truly, you do feel worse when other people are as miserable as you are. For one thing, you feel guilty. So, in addition to feeling depression or discouragement or hopelessness or anger. . .well, you also blame yourself. So, by that time, you have so many destructive emotions on your plate that there’s no room for the emotions that would nourish you, such as hope, faith, gratitude, and joy. Imagine if you were at a buffet and you decided to pile your plate high with nothing but foods that were laden with heavy sauces and gravy. How would you feel after you finished eating? Would you feel good? Might you not feel sluggish and lethargic? Well, life is like that, too. You must find a way to get rid of those emotions that are making you feel like giving up on yourself and on life if you’re ever going to feel brave and hopeful and happy. Doesn’t that make sense?? When a theatre has a sold out performance, there are no empty seats. When your freezer is packed with so much food that you can barely close the door, you aren’t going to be able to fit another carton of ice cream or another bag of frozen peas in there. It just isn’t going to happen. This is why I suggesting ridding your life of as many toxic people as you can. If you don’t, what’s going to happen is that there won’t be space for those people who will uplift you, inspire you, and make your life more marvelous.

I know my thoughts may seem to be more scattered than usual, but your diva is not in a mood to worry about how tidy her thought patterns are today. If it seems like I’m talking to myself almost as much as I’m talking to you. . .well, what can I say? I watched too many videos of Glenn Gould playing Bach over at You Tube. For those who are not very familiar with Glenn Gould, he often mumbled and hummed to himself while he was performing on the piano. Actually, I am talking to you. I’m just sharing with you the thoughts and ideas I share with myself on a constant basis. I continually berate myself for not having enough of what I call an “attitude of gratitude”. I realize that life is a gift, and I understand that allowing one day to pass in which you let yourself thrive on negative and destructive emotions is the same as not thanking someone who gives you a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a book you have always wanted for your birthday. I remember once when I wanted a copy of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell for my birthday. I was 16 years old at the time, and I had always loved the film adaptation of the book. For one thing, Vivien Leigh has always been my favorite actress. At any rate, I let it be known—in a very subtle way, of course—that I would really love to have a copy of Gone with the Wind. One of my girlfriends, who had always made a point of trying to give me presents she thought I would like, seemed like the most likely person to give me a copy of the novel. Well, imagine my surprise and my disappointment when she gave me William Bennett’s Book of Virtues instead. To this day, I have never read much of the book. It wasn’t because I had anything against the book. In fact, I’m sure it’s an excellent book, and it would probably benefit me in some significant way were I to read it from cover to cover. It is supposed to include stories about such laudable virtues as responsibility, courage, self-discipline, perseverance, honesty, faith, and compassion. However, I really wanted to read about Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. I did not care about being morally enlightened. I have always been what people would call a ‘good’ person, and, although I realize I am in some ways very much flawed, I didn’t see that The Book of Virtues was something I need to own. Let’s just forget that everyone who read it at Amazon seems to have given it 4-5 stars *wink*. Hey, maybe it was what I needed. Perhaps I should even pull it out now and start reading it. Who knows? What I do know is that it wasn’t the present I wanted on my sixteenth birthday.

Of course, there could be a lesson here, couldn’t there? It is only at this moment that I am seeing the lesson. . .so, please know that I am sharing this with you at the very time that it has become clear to me. I am very spontaneous in most of my writing at this blog. I do not consciously plan what I am going to say nor do I have lots of books here that I am gathering thoughts from. I am what you might call my own diva. There are other experts on success and happiness who know more than I do, I am certain. But you have chosen me—not them. So, you want to hear my own personal ideas, not the ideas of another person even if that person is more of an expert than I am. The revelation I have just had is this. My girlfriend giving me The Book of Virtues, a book I didn’t want, instead of Gone with the Wind, a book I did want, is a lot like life. How?? Well, aren’t we oftentimes getting something different than what we want? Haven’t there been men or women whom we have found attractive who were not interested in us? And have we not decided to go out with someone whom we originally thought wasn’t “our type”? Yet, are there not some of you who have ended up realizing that the person who wasn’t your “type” was more your “type” than that other man/woman who rejected you? And haven’t you ever been in a restaurant and found out that the entree or dessert you wanted wasn’t available? I have. Last October, on my birthday, I went to a French restaurant. My heart was set on trying the cherry claufouti. However, when I got there, I was told that they had already run out of that particular dessert earlier in the evening. So, what did I do? Well, I ordered a banana and chocolate crepe with whipped creme. How was it? Well, let’s just say I forgot all about the claufouti once I had devoured the crepe. I think life can be like this, too. I was trained to be a classical musician and spent years thinking that I would never find any other career that I felt so passionate and enthusiastic about. Indeed, if you had asked me, when I was 12 years old, what I would do if a concert career on the violin or the piano didn’t work out, I would have told  you, “It has to work out. It must work out.” You know what, though? It didn’t work out. Yes, I had a plan for my life. . .but, you see, life had a plan for me. And the two plans didn’t match up. Carson McCullers, one of the greatest writers that the Southern part of the United States has ever produced, also wanted a career in classical music. In fact, that’s what she trained for, too. But life clearly had other plans. I never knew Carson McCullers. . .so, I never had the chance to ask her how she felt about the career in music not working out. Yet the chances are that at some point she saw it as a blessing. By the time that her career as a writer was flourishing, I would find it hard to believe that she was looking back over her shoulder, feeling an enormous amount of regret.

So, as you see, some of the things that we are given in life may not be just what we want when we get them.  . .but sometimes they’re what we end up needing. As I have been writing this, I feel as if another window has been opened in my life. That window needed to be opened, and I want to thank those of you who support your diva for making my life so much richer by allowing me into your world. I am looking forward to the rest of the day, whereas there was a time during the early morning hours when your diva, much to her chagrin, was looking upon this day as merely a certain period of hours to get through. Now, though, I see it as an opportunity. . . and as a gift. Thank you.

Life isn’t just one gift. . .but a series of gifts. Each day is a present, and I don’t know about you, but these aren’t presents I want to return to the store.

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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You are. . .well, You

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

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

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

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

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

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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