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tonight-showLast Friday, my husband and I went to see a taping of “The Tonight Show.”  This was something we’d wanted to do for a long time but kept putting off.  We are so glad we finally made it happen, as we had a wonderful time!  It was very interesting to see how a show like this evolves behind the scenes.  I recommend it to anyone who is curious and finds themselves in the Los Angeles area.

There are Lessons Everywhere…

While we were at the taping, I had an experience that is worth writing about in this blog, as it relates to an ongoing issue that is one of the focus areas in my journey to heal my life.  This experience shows that there are lessons inherent in all life experiences, even those we thought would be purely fun and entertaining.  We should always be open to lessons and gifts in everything we do.

All it Took Was a Smile

When we got to the NBC studio where “The Tonight Show” is taped, we were given numbers and asked to line up in an audience holding area.   As we were waiting, I noticed a few staffers pulling people out of line to interview them.  My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to smile at one of the staffers and use the power of my thoughts to manifest my becoming one of the interviewees.  It worked and I was pulled out of line a few minutes later!

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

I was asked to participate in a segment of the show called “Q & A with T & J,” in which audience members ask questions of Jay Leno and his guest, Terry Bradshaw.  I was handed my question to ask and was shocked at what it was… “How do you know you’ve reached success in life?”  As a person who is constantly focused on the issue of success and my associated self-doubt, I found it very interesting and perhaps more than coincidental that I would be given this question to ask on national television!

Cutting Room Floor

The taping was done and I asked Jay and Terry my question at the appointed time.  It was fun to interact with both of them and to get their humorous take on such a serious question.   Although I was excited to appear on television and posted about it on Facebook, I was disappointed to see that my question ended up on the proverbial “cutting room floor.”   However, I did get to bring my group (which also included my father and stepmother) to sit in great seats in the studio, plus I was given a Tonight Show t-shirt, so all was not lost.

How Do You Know…?

All in all, my Tonight Show visit was a great experience, but I continued to reflect upon the question in the days which followed.  During a walk the next day, I posed the question to my husband, “So, how do YOU know you’ve reached success in life?

His answer was a good one… He said that for him, success relates to freedom.  He knows he’s successful when he is free to spend his time as he wishes and can make empowered choices for what he wants to do in life.  Success for him doesn’t equate to a particular job title, dollar amount, or material possessions.  It is more related to how he spends his time and how much freedom he has to choose his professional and personal pursuits.

The American Dream?

We talked about how success varies from individual to individual and from society to society.  In our society, the most prevalent measure of success relates to career achievement and monetary earnings.  A person is said to be successful if he or she has a particular type of job or earns over a certain amount (which varies by region).   Home ownership is also a large factor in determining whether or not one is successful, such that the phrase “American Dream” has become synonymous with owning one’s own home.  This collapsing of concepts contributing to the mortgage crisis of recent years, but that situation is a bit off-topic for this blog…

Success and Failure Road SignThe limited definition for success in our society has many people feeling like failures because they don’t quite “measure up. “ This has been an ongoing issue for me, particularly in the years since I left my corporate job in 2003.  During the past seven years, I haven’t even come close to earning my previous corporate salary, and I’ve changed my career path several times due to acute feelings of disillusionment.   It has become habitual for me to consider myself a failure and that self-inflicted label has wreaked havoc upon my self-esteem.

Redefining Success

I haven’t really taken the time to profoundly consider my personal definition for success in a number of years.  In pondering the Tonight Show question, I remembered a quote I found long ago which deeply resonated for me.  Fortunately, I was able to rediscover this quote through the magic of the Outlook search feature.  It was published in professional coach Chris Barrow’s newsletter in March 2004:

Success is doing what you love to do, when you love to do it, with people you love working with.” – Chris Barrow

I like this definition as much today as I did six years ago!  It dovetails well with my own definition for success that I have created subsequent to last Friday’s Tonight Show visit.

My New Definition for Success

So how do I know I’ve reached success in life?  There are five key factors in my newly constructed vision.  I could write a complete post on each of these individual aspects, but I will briefly define them herein.

  1. Health – My recent health challenges have affirmed the truth of the old adage, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”  Health serves as a powerful foundation for success in all other areas of one’s life.  If one feels healthy and vibrant, he is much more up to the various challenges he takes on and can more readily withstand stressors along the way.  Achieving good health is an accomplishment in and of itself, especially as one ages and health becomes much less of a “given” than it was in younger years.
  2. Freedom – I steadfastly agree with my husband’s assertion that freedom is an integral component of success.  The freedom to choose what type of work one does and where and when one does it is a big part of how successful one feels.  I remember when I was first able to move to Lake Tahoe (and later San Diego) and work from home.  I think that’s when I felt most successful in my work.
  3. Happiness – Success is about so much more than career and money.  I believe that a successful life involves joy and happiness each and every day.  If one can stop and ask himself at various times of the day, “Am I enjoying what I’m doing?” and answer with a resounding yes, he likely feels much more successful than a person who feels somber and uninvolved in his activities.
  4. Connection – No man or woman is an island.  As human beings, we want and need to feel a connection to those around us.  We want to experience love and affinity and to develop functional and enriching relationships with those around us.  If I feel connected to others and am able to communicate honestly and deeply with my friends and family, I feel happier and more successful in life.
  5. Growth – It is highly important to me to continue to grow and learn throughout my lifespan.  I want to always feel like I am evolving as a person and discovering new things about myself and the world around me.  I am successful if I can easily answer yes to the question, “Am I growing and learning new things every day?”

Am I Successful?

So, have I reached success based upon my own definition?  Not yet, but I am definitely on my way… What’s more, I find this new definition infinitely more inspiring and empowering than the old one to which I subscribed.  I’m not suggesting that career and money are not important in life.  Of course they are, but they are not everything.  While I still hope to achieve career success and earn a decent income, it feels good for me to know that I can still be successful in life without reaching those milestones.

A New Fresh Outlook

Who would have thought I would learn so much from a trip to see a taping of the Tonight Show?  I now move forward with my healing project with a fresh outlook and new goals.  As I proceed with the final four months of my journey (that is, if I don’t extend it beyond a year…), I am newly invigorated and feel hopeful and positive that I can and will heal my life!

Related Posts:

  • Handling Discouragement: This early post primarily deals with larger areas of discouragement such as career and health woes, but the advice given is applicable to “in the moment” obstacles as well.  In particular, the recommendations for taking a “time out” and getting into action are useful.
  • The Decision: This post outlines a life-changing decision I made in August 2009.  Prior to that decision, I had become increasingly fearful, negative, and pessimistic.  I wrestled with many issues and was worrying my life away.  What I decided was something I knew before, but not “in my bones.”  I get to choose how to approach my life and how things will affect me.  I set the powerful intention to live in the moment and face life with a positive attitude.
  • Missing Tile Syndrome:   As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  This post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I present an overview of the concept of the “missing tile syndrome,” as well as the three main ways for dealing with it.
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Woman with shining water behind herThis coming Sunday, August 8th, is my birthday. I will turn 44, which officially places me in my mid-forties.   There’s no denying it at this point; I’m now “middle-aged.” I don’t like the imagery evoked by that term, but I know intuitively that the term has no real intrinsic meaning. 

The labels we place on ourselves are what we make them, much like life itself. To quote an old Talk Talk song from the 80s (I don’t have to worry about “dating” myself since I already gave my age away!), “Baby, life’s what you make it.  Celebrate it!”

Embracing the Aging Process

Instead of fearing the aging process or denying it, I choose to embrace it and face it head-on. Although I have the requisite wrinkles and grey hairs which inevitably accompany middle-age, I feel that the positive points of having reached this milestone far outweigh the negatives.

I’ve decided to dedicate this post to my reflections at mid-life. What have I learned about myself and about life over the years?  What would I tell my younger self if I could be transported back in time to talk with her? What wisdom could I impart to her to help make her journey a bit less troubled and fraught with difficulties?

Key Points of Wisdom at Mid-Life

I can encapsulate my key words of wisdom into three main points, which I will address in detail below:

  1. Feeling good is more important than looking good.
  2. Life is more than accomplishments.
  3. Strive for balance in all things.

Feeling Good is More Important Than Looking Good

When I was in my teens and twenties (heck, even a large portion of my thirties), looking good was of the utmost importance. I risked my health in countless ways, all in the pursuit of my image of beauty and perfection.  I starved myself, exercised obsessively, binged and purged, and abused diet pills and other substances in order to achieve the unrealistic and unhealthy level of thinness that I felt was attractive.  My eating disorders pushed me to the brink of death on multiple occasions and I am extremely lucky to have survived and to be alive today.

My younger self lived for the moment and didn’t consider the potential lasting repercussions of her actions. I didn’t realize at the time that I would still be feeling the effects of my misguided behavior many years down the road, yet I am convinced that many of the health concerns which continue to plague me are rooted in the self-destructive behaviors of my earlier years.

Sadly, it is only in the absence of good health that many people come to value their physical well-being. It is all too true that vibrant health and vitality is our greatest blessing and that it is difficult to experience life happiness without it.  The old adage that without our health, we don’t really have anything is painfully true.

If I were granted the ability to speak with my young and troubled self, I would do my best to convince her just how important health is and that feeling good is more important than looking good. I would also strive to expand her view of beauty to include body types other than extreme thinness and to highlight the value of inner beauty.

I am not sure how much of an impact my pleas would have on the young me, as I was extremely depressed and devoid of any real sense of self-worth at the time, but perhaps my words will have a positive effect on some of my young readers.  If I could turn back the clock, I would embrace my youthful health and strive to be strong, vibrant and athletic instead of thin and unhealthy.

Life is More Than Accomplishments

When I was younger, my life was all about achievement. I wanted to graduate college with honors, do the same with graduate school, and climb the corporate ladder to what I thought was “success.”  As I’ve matured, my perspective on success and accomplishment has changed. The things that I thought would lead me to feel happy and satisfied did not produce that result.  I came to realize that true success consists of inner peace and being able to look in the mirror and be happy with the person you see staring back at you.

If you ask a person in his twenties or thirties about his goals for life, it’s likely he will speak about career aspirations and the “American Dream” of owning a home. Of course, he might also mention his dreams of marrying and starting a family, but chances are his initial statements will be career-related. 

If you ask a person in his fifties or sixties to share his goals, the response will generally be focused in a different direction. He will likely speak of spending more time with his family, pursuing a hobby, or traveling to other areas of the world.  The older person typically values experiences over accomplishments. This doesn’t invalidate career pursuits, but it does highlight the importance of balance in life.

A few years ago, I was out with a small group and we got to talking about success.  When I lamented my lack of success, I was met with surprise from my companions, who stated that they considered me to be quite successful. When I tried to argue with them, one woman enumerated the facets of my success:  a happy marriage, living in an area I love, my educational accomplishments, my freedom to set my own schedule and pursue passions, and my continued path toward self-improvement.  When I thought about it, I realized she was right.  Although I didn’t necessarily fit the societal definition of success, my life was quite successful indeed!

Truth be told, I still wrestle with my personal definition of success and grapple with feelings of failure and inadequacy.  However, my view of success has become more expansive in recent years.  It now includes more facets of my life besides career and money and is centered more on living a happy and balanced life.

The mid-life me knows that at the end of my life journey, I won’t be wishing I spent more time at the office or engaged in the pursuit of career accolades or the financial trappings of success.  If I could, I would tell the younger me that she should invest as much energy in her relationships and passions as in her education and jobs and that she would be happier for this.

Strive for Balance in All Things

I touched on this point above, but it is worthy of repeating.  A balanced life is a happier and more fulfilling life. The young me would often focus on one aspect of life (such as career) to the exclusion of all other areas.   I would often work very long hours and sacrifice my relationships and health in my steadfast striving to reach certain milestones. 

The more mature me knows that it isn’t wise to allow any one area of life to occupy all or most of my time and attention. I now make sure to devote energy to all key facets of my life.  I don’t necessarily dedicate the same amount of time to all areas, but I no longer neglect any area completely.

There is a lot more that I would say to my younger self if I were given the chance.  I would speak to her about the importance of gratitude, self-awareness, growth, self-respect, kindness, and many other values and traits. I would also illuminate the subject of balance further, which will be the topic of a future post.  For now, I will simply state that I am extremely grateful to be reaching my 44th birthday and to be on the important and rewarding path toward healing my life!

My next post will mark the halfway point in my journey to heal myself and my life in one year.  In this post, I will share what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown during the first half of the Healing Project.  Until then, I thank those who are accompanying me on my journey and I wish you happiness, joy, and peace!

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Last week, I wrote the post “Overspending,” about a recent shopping trip that resulted in my spending too much money and feeling that I had acted in a compulsive manner.  Although there were important lessons inherent in that individual experience, it also raised the issue of compulsive behavior in general.  This post is geared toward examining compulsive behavior, getting to the root of why we engage in such destructive actions, and looking at what we can do to begin to turn it around.

Compulsiveness Takes Many Forms…

I shared about my shopping and spending issues, but these are far from the only forms of compulsive behaviors with which I’ve struggled.  I’ve also engaged in compulsive overeating, dieting, and exercising, and spending too much time working or surfing the internet, among other things.   You may have grappled with similar issues, or you may have had problems with drinking, drugs, gambling, sex, or any number of other maladaptive behaviors.  It doesn’t matter which of these behaviors has plagued you, the problem is usually rooted in the same causes.

Years ago, I wanted to write a book called “It’s Not About the Food,” about eating disorders and compulsive overeating.  Unfortunately, someone else used this brilliant title before I could, but that won’t stop me from sharing my thoughts on the issue.  From my early teens until the very recent past, I struggled with pretty much every eating disorder which a person could have.  I was anorexic, bulimic, an obsessive exerciser, and a compulsive overeater.  I have been seriously underweight, overweight, and every weight in between, yet my pain was always the same.  It was never about the number on the scale or what I did or didn’t do around food.  It was always about something else, and the same is true for all other forms of compulsive behavior.

Escaping Pain

My overeating, under eating, shopping, and other compulsive behaviors have served both as coping mechanisms and means of escape from the pain which I was experiencing in my life.  As much pain as these behaviors caused me, and that pain has been intense, the pain which was being masked by my compulsivity was far greater.  There was something, or multiple things, which I just didn’t want to look at, so I ate, dieted, or shopped.  I would then lament my weight gain, food obsession, or credit card bills instead of dealing with what was really wrong in my life.

  • What was it that I didn’t want to feel?
  • What is it that you don’t want to feel that is being buried under your compulsive behaviors? 

Getting to the Root of Things

While I can’t possibly know the answer for anyone else, I can share what I believe it was – and is – for me.  I have always felt like an outsider and as if I didn’t really “belong.”  I never felt like I was “good enough,” but I thought that if I could somehow be thin enough, maybe I would measure up.  Or I thought that if I could be pretty enough (which relates to the hair obsession which I shared in my last post, “Perspective and Appreciation”) or dress well enough, maybe I would fit in and be on par with others.  That was part of it…

As I’ve shared in previous posts, I’ve long struggled to achieve the societal vision of success in terms of my career.  While I know that I am intelligent and capable, I have experienced only limited financial success over the course of my working life.  I have difficulty maintaining a passion for a single occupation and thus have switched careers a number of times over the years.  Now, at age 43, I feel insecure at my current career status and feel that I should be much farther along the path of success at this point in my life.  While I think about this often, I frequently feel stuck and powerless, and I sometimes plummet into feelings of despair and hopelessness when I find that I don’t have the answers.

Comfortably Numb?

What do people do when they feel desperate and hopeless?  They often do whatever they can to numb those feelings, using whatever they have at their disposal at the time.  I don’t consciously think, “I feel bad, so I think I’ll go shopping and numb myself out,” but that is virtually what I do.  The shopping gives me a high that serves to mitigate the lows I was feeling about my career woes or whatever else was troubling me.  I know this is true because the items which I buy often sit in my closet for weeks or even months with the tags still on them.

If it really was about my being greedy or truly wanting certain items of clothing, wouldn’t I be rushing to wear them?  The feeling I get from shopping and buying clothes is similar to what I used to feel when I would eat a pile of sweets.   The pain is numbed and replaced with a high, and I have escaped my negative feelings, albeit only temporarily.   That pain returns shortly thereafter and the feelings of guilt and shame resulting from my compulsive behavior add insult to injury and I end up feeling much worse.  It’s a vicious cycle and a very difficult one to stop, but there is hope…

The Place of Power

I’ve often heard it said that the place of power is in the space between stimulus and response.  Most people merely react to what’s going on in their lives; they do what they have always done even when it doesn’t serve them.  There is virtually no gap between their feelings (stimulus) and their compulsive behavior (response).  A person feels bad, and then they eat, drink, or do something else to numb the pain.  But there is another way -and it starts with awareness…  The awareness of your compulsive behavior and what it is costing you is what creates a small space between your negative feelings and what has become an automatic reaction.  That small space is the seat of powerful action, as opposed to disempowered reaction.

An Example & Key Questions to Ask

An example can help to illustrate this important point… Let’s say that I just checked my email and have learned that I didn’t get a much hoped for work project.  I feel anxious and that anxiety leads to some serious worries about my future career prospects, as well as fears that I may never have a “successful career.”  Without even thinking about it, I walk to the kitchen and start riffling through the cupboards for something sweet to eat.  In the past, I would have stuffed my face with food until I felt numb, but this time, I pause. I ask myself these key questions:

  1. Am I physically hungry?
  2. What do I really need in this moment?
  3. What small step can I take to give myself what I really need?

The pause that I have taken has allowed me to act instead of react.  Even if I still choose to eat, I have removed the automatic nature of this behavior, which is what makes it compulsive.   The same questions can be asked when faced with other types of compulsive behavior.  Simply construct an alternate first question (i.e. “Do I really need that pair of shoes?”) to fit your specific behavior challenge and use the same second and third questions as above.

There is Hope!

I am not promising that you will eliminate your compulsive behavior overnight, but if you are able to pause and allow yourself to examine what’s really going on beneath the behavior, you are on the path toward healing.  It often takes time to overcome long-term behaviors which have served as effective (albeit self-destructive) coping mechanisms.  As I’ve revealed, I still struggle with shopping and spending too much money, but it happens less often and I can more readily “course-correct,” as I did last week.   I was able to realize what was going on, turn it around (by returning the unnecessary purchases) and learn from the experience.  That is my hope for you as well…

I’m sure that the issue of compulsive behaviors will be addressed again in future posts.  If you have any questions or feedback regarding this post or suggestions for future topics, I would love to hear them.  Next week, we’ll start to look at belief systems and how they both help and hurt us.  If you’re following along in Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book,” please read Chapter 2 and complete the exercises on pages 24-29.  Have a wonderful weekend!

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hand grasping star imageI want to briefly interrupt my discussion of Louise Hay’s Key Principles in order to share a personal practice that has made a big difference in my life.  I will return to the Key Principles in my next post…

I’ve often heard that the biggest key to happiness is gratitude, and I don’t doubt that.  When we are present to all that is wonderful in our lives, it’s difficult to feel depressed and despondent.  As  I look back on my life, I can see that even in my most difficult times, I still had a lot to be grateful for in my life.  I just had to look in the right place!  It’s all about focus and attitude, I’ve learned.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

To help me to stay aware of the many blessings in my life, I started to keep a Gratitude Journal a few years ago.  I confess that I haven’t always been consistent with this practice, but when I’ve maintained my Gratitude Journal, it’s helped me to be more positive and upbeat.  Here’s how it works…

On a daily or almost daily basis, I list three things in my life for which I am grateful. These can be big things or small things; there are no rules for what can be on the list.  I’ve found that it’s easy to think of the larger things, such as my wonderful husband, my cozy home, my cats, my vision, and my hearing.  The smaller things can be trickier to remember, yet those things also have a powerful impact in my life.  Here are some examples of some of the “small things” I’ve listed in my Gratitude Journal in recent entries:

  • I had an enjoyable walk with Mike along the water this evening.
  • The sun was out today after many, many rainy days in a row!
  • My kitties were curled up in the box on my desk all afternoon while I worked.
  • Our coffee grinder and coffee machine allow me to have delicious coffee every morning.
  • Class yesterday was both interesting and useful.

Add “Success” Entries to Your Journal

Since I have a tendency to be down on myself at times, I added a second component to my Gratitude Journal.  I also list three successes which I’ve achieved since my last journal entry.  As with the gratitude entries, it’s easy to remember our big wins, such as getting a job or a new client, completing a difficult project, or having a “crucial conversation” with a loved one.   But as we all know, such triumphs are not usually an everyday occurrence.  Yet we all have many small wins each and every day.  Noticing these wins can help us to become more present to the greatness which exists in each and every one of us.

In all honesty, I have to admit that sometimes I have to wrack my brain to come up with three successes for my Gratitude / Success Journal.   It is at these times that I really need to reflect upon what I have done well in the various areas of my life.  As with the gratitude entries, my success entries are often the “small things.”  Here are some recent examples of successes which I have recorded in my journal:

  • I got up and moving earlier this morning – was done exercising and getting ready by 10 am (I’m not a “morning person” – LOL)
  • I found a pair of jeans which fit well and are long enough for me!
  • I’ve been keeping me email in-box cleaned out and I’m not spending too much time on email.
  • I’m doing better at letting go of “should” and allowing myself to enjoy life (this is a BIG success!)
  • I ran errands and went to the gym yesterday despite not feeling like leaving the house.

How the Journal Helps…

My Gratitude/Success Journal helps me to be more present to all of the wonderful things in my life and to count my blessings instead of my problems.  It also helps me to be more aware of what I do well and to see how my small triumphs contribute to my life satisfaction and overall success.  Keeping this journal on a regular basis has led to my becoming a more positive person.

There is an additional use for my journal… When I am feeling particularly low on a given day, I look back at my journal entries for a reminder of my large and small blessings, as well as the ways in which I’ve succeeded in the various areas of my life.  This often provides the boost that I need to get out of victim mode and get back on track to being grateful and positive.

Stay tuned for two more posts about Louise Hay’s key principles.  Then we’ll move “full speed ahead” into the exercises in “You Can Heal Your Life.”  The Healing Project is ON!

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