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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chapter Four

Chapter Four: Start Small, but Believe

Where to begin? Let’s start by taking an accounting of all your good points. I said ALL of them. Don’t tell me you don’t have any, or very many. It is a proven fact that a person must have more positive concepts about himself/herself than negative ones to function. That is why we go to such lengths to justify our weaknesses; we have to feel good about ourselves. So let’s list everything you have going for you.

Give yourself credit for all your accomplishments. Are you breathing? Good! That’s the most important qualification for improving yourself! You pass the test! Now go from there. How is your health? If it’s good, count your blessings. If it’s not, look at the courage and strength of will it takes for you to get through every day. What a talent!

Do you have a relationship with anyone? Father, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, friend, co-worker, acquaintance—anyone? List them all, and recognize that the ability to maintain a relationship is a talent.

Can you express your thoughts clearly? Can you sing? Are you good at math? Are you good with your hands? Do animals like you? (Don’t laugh! Animals are very perceptive!) Can you draw? Can you name a constellation other than The Big Dipper? Can you hold your breath for a long time? (Hey! It has applications!)

Keep thinking, and list everything you can do. When you finish, it may surprise you how much you have going for you!

Sometimes an ability will seemingly come into view all by itself. This book is an example of that. People kept coming to me and bringing up the same issues of lack of fulfillment. It bothered me to see so many people struggling. I would talk with each one and relate a bit of my story that was relevant to his or her situation—something I thought would help. As this happened time after time, I realized (that is, my spirit and the Holy Spirit got through to me) that my experiences could be helpful to others, and that there were far more people in the world than the few I’d met who could benefit from the wisdom I had gained by experience. I decided that if I could help one person, it was worth my time to write it all down.

Notice I had the confidence to think I could do it! How did I get that confidence? By listening to my heart, writing year after year, and convincing myself that I am a writer.

Acknowledge the restrictions that cannot be changed. There are certain circumstances in our lives that cannot be changed, like marriage, children, and the need to earn a living. Getting a divorce and leaving your family is not an option for most people. Only abusive relationships should be forsaken. And once your children are born, they are your responsibility. Period. It is your duty to nurture them and help them to realize in themselves those same things you are learning about yourself now. People who have walked away can tell you that those relationships are never really abandoned; they stay with you, scarring your life and the lives of others (particularly children), and bringing about much unhappiness and unfulfillment on all sides.

More importantly, the day-to-day relationships we have with those people close to us can be the source of the most joyful and fulfilling moments in our lives. Sharing triumphs with people who have seen the struggle magnifies the conquest by many times. We, in turn, can rejoice in the accomplishments our loved ones attain. Growing together and encouraging one another is one of the biggest reasons for all of us being on the planet at the same time.

Recognize the things that can change. That may be hard to do, since we tend to hunker down into our cozy little ruts and stay there. It’s comfortable there. We know what’s going to happen. But there comes a time when each of us has to poke his/her head up into the clear blue sky and look around. There may be opportunities in view—maybe within immediate grasping distance—that would greatly improve life’s situation.

This can be unsettling to one degree or another, depending how far down in that rut you live; but if you ever want to see an improvement in your circumstances, you have to muster the courage to look around. Maybe your job takes all the energy you have, leaving nothing for yourself or your family. Maybe you need to get serious about taking care of your health problems instead of looking for the miracle pill that will take it all away. There may be a long list of excuses why you just can’t do whatever it is you can’t do; that list needs to be burned. “I don’t have time” is not acceptable. No one has time; you have to make time.

What seems too difficult or too much of a sacrifice now may really be a necessity. One way to determine the difference between a need and a want is to look at the worst-case scenario. For instance, if starting tomorrow you had to start giving things up in order to stay alive, what would you have left by next month? A car? A big house? A closet full of clothes? Jewelry? Cell phones? Stacks of magazines and newspapers? Knickknacks? No, basics would be something to eat, something to wear, and someplace to sleep.

Now think about the necessities of keeping your spirit alive. Do you need negative input? Self-effacing thoughts and remarks? A daily routine that is oppressive? Isolation? Depression? Get rid of the things that hamper change! Instead, feed your spirit on positive thoughts: love yourself, accept who you are, spend time learning to do those things that bring you joy. These are the things that will keep your spirit alive!

Smile. It’s such a basic thing to have a positive attitude about yourself, yet it’s so difficult for so many. There’s one easy test: look in the mirror and smile at yourself. If you can do it, you’re on your way.

When I first tried, I couldn’t do it. I was so unhappy with myself I couldn’t smile at that woman! But I made myself try, over and over. At first I just looked at her; sometimes I cried, but going through the exercise made me confront—come face to face, if you will—with why I was unhappy. I had to think about it, deal with it, overcome it if I were ever going to be able to smile at that lady.

After a while, I could make goofy, clown-like faces at myself; not serious, satisfied smiles, but it was a step. It felt awkward, uncomfortable, out of my rut; but I kept at it. Then one day, it happened! I looked at myself, and I liked what I saw, and I looked myself right in the eye and I smiled! It’s a fabulous feeling! One of the best I’ve ever had.

I still check myself from time to time, to see if I can smile; and if things get tough and I’m really down, I go stare at myself in the mirror. Somehow my spirit reaches out through my eyes and I discuss my problem with myself, and then I smile.

Learn to say, “ I am a _____________,” and act like one. Once you’ve mastered the smile and identified who you are, you have to change your thought pattern. I used to say, “I want to be a writer,” and looking back I can see that I acted like a wannabe writer. I wrote once in a while and dreamed of doing the talk shows to promote my new book. I gave some pieces to a friend or two to read, but I kept most of it to myself. When I did finally try to market some things, I took the first rejections very personally, and decided no one was interested.

Then I went through my personal identification. After that, when people asked me what I did, I would say, “I’m a writer.” It was strange at first, to be really saying it out loud, but before long it was easy to proclaim to the world who I am. I started seeking work as a writer; and with my new confidence, it wasn’t hard to convince people I could do it. Of course I had to demonstrate my talent, but I now had a high enough opinion of my own abilities to do that without hesitation.

Schedule time for you, and be sure you use it. If you are going to effect a real change in your life, you are going to have to devote some time to making it happen. I’ve heard that it takes three months of doing something regularly to make it a habit; if you are going to become a ___________, acting like one will have to be a habit.

Make a list of the things you think you need to do to become a ____________. Set goals as to when these things will be accomplished; then set up a schedule. Can you find time for yourself every day? Come on! You have time for everyone else! Put yourself in the daily plan! You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to have even ten minutes to call your own.

If you have small children, or children who are very dependent on you being at their beck and call, it might be a good idea to start with a small amount of time each day when they have instructions not to disturb you unless there is an emergency. At first they may weep and wail and pound on your door; but soon they understand that you will come out, and when you do, you will be a much more pleasant person (because you feel fulfillment!). Of course, I’m not advocating ignoring real needs, and there will be days when you have to interrupt your plan; but when that happens, reschedule immediately! Put yourself in the first available time slot and try again. You’re never defeated until you stop trying.

For me it was important to let my family witness the transformation. To tell the truth, with six kids in a close family and in our little house, I couldn’t have hidden it from them if I’d tried! As young as they were, they noticed changes in my demeanor, in the length of my “fuse,” and in my general outlook on the world. They knew what I was doing, and they watched with interest. It really didn’t take long for our rule to become effective; the rule was that if they came into the room and my hands were busy on the keyboard, they should wait until my fingers stopped moving to talk to me—unless, of course, someone was bleeding or the kitchen was on fire….

I didn’t realize the impact my growth was having on the children until our oldest daughter wrote me a letter for Mothers Day one year—I think she was about seventeen. She listed the things she loved about me and the things I did for her; then she wrote, “The most important thing you taught me was that you never give up on your dreams.” I still cry every time I repeat that. That daughter is now married and the mother of three amazingly talented boys. She is working at building a business in interior design—her dream. There’s never been any doubt in her mind she’d get there. (Mine, either.)

The goals you set may have to shift as you work through your reformation—things don’t always happen at the rate we think they will. Then again, as you get further into the process, you may find that some things you had outlined aren’t important, while others have come to light that really need development.

Earlier I mentioned college “the first time.” I never really intended for there to be a second time. As much as I love learning, I’m not a big fan of academia with all its bravado. I was making a living as a writer/editor in the corporate world. It was working. But my spirit kept at me—the degree, the degree. I didn’t really want one—I didn’t even know what degree I would go for. I didn’t have the money, and I certainly didn’t have the time or the desire. Still, the thought kept returning, year after year.

Finally, my job got so stressful it was affecting my health. I wanted another path; but because I didn’t have a degree, many avenues were closed to me. So now was the time to get started. I went back to school on line. Within a few months I had decided that I couldn’t stay at my job any longer. With my husband’s blessing and encouragement, I quit and concentrated on finishing school. I still didn’t like a lot of aspects of it, but I knew this was something I had to do. So…on rappel, on belay… the Lord and I got through it and I graduated with a 4.0.

Now what? I looked at jobs. I couldn’t find any that I could see myself doing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all I wanted to do was write. And now, with all my years of experience and a BA in Communication Studies, I was fully qualified by anyone’s standards to be my own marketing manager as well. Again, with the blessing of my fabulous partner in life, I gave myself a year to start making money as a writer. That’s where I am as I write this—in the third quarter of that year, and beginning to see returns on my first novel, even as several more line up in the queue. This is not exactly the way I had seen my story panning out; I had to adjust as directed along the path to land in the position I am in. I’m not saying anyone has to have a BA to follow his/her dreams; I’m just saying that for whatever reason it was made known to me that that was what I needed. Based on past experience, I’m sure I’ll see more reasons for it down the line.

Review your master plan often, and adjust it where necessary. But above all, keep chipping away at the list.

The list for you may consist of nothing more than exercising the talent. That’s great! Just make sure you do something with it every day.

While you’re at it, keep a journal of what you’re feeling, what works, and what doesn’t. If not a full-fledged journal, at least write notes on a calendar so you have some record of your progress. Then when one of those down days rolls around, you can look back at what you’ve written and see how far you have really come.

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