Sunday, March 15, 2009

Self Improvement Comes in Many Forms - Some Food for Thought

Self improvement can be as simple or as complicated as one wants it to be.

In my teens I made it part of my common practice to work on improving myself. Whether it was a matter of improving my speech or learning something new every day. To this day, every night when I go to bed I think about how lucky I am to have learned at least one new thing that day. Every morning when I wake up, I thank God for giving me another day to cherish life and those around me.

It's so easy to just 'be' You all know people like that. They just maintain status quo and stagnate. They don’t think about learning, growing, changing. Most people are afraid of change and avoid it at all costs. I was once one of those people, and my life was ruled by crippling fear.

Unfortunately, much of my self-improvement has been as a result of hard won wisdom through mistakes along the way. Life doesn’t come with a blueprint or a manual. Like innocent children, we sometimes stumble and make mistakes along the way. It’s called being human.

I haven’t always been flexible. In the contrary, I was as rigid and unyielding as the next person. The difference for me was the necessity of learning to be flexible in order to succeed and thrive in an environment that was foreign to me…the work world.

At 17 I graduated with honors from High School and left home to ’do something with my life.’ I knew that if I stayed where I grew up, I would not become anyone worthwhile, and I might not survive. So with the impetus to start a new life, away from an abusive childhood, I left home at 17.

I landed my first job in Washington, DC working in an editorial office on the staff of a scholarly peer-reviewed medical journal. During my 17 years with that organization I learned, grew and spread my wings and went on to explore other things. Of course, along the way I made mistakes (I was particularly a poor judge of character, too trusting, and gullible) and was taken advantage by many people, but I learned…

Honestly, those mistakes along the way, through the years were what one would call ’character building.’ My boss would remind me every time I would recall yet another mishap. “Maria, it’s a character building experience.” I got to the point where I would say, “I have ENOUGH character already, I don’t WANT anymore of these ’character building’ experiences!”

So fast forward through a failed first marriage, working for 20 years, finding my faith in God, a divorce, entering university at 39, graduating with honors at 44, going through early menopause, finding true love and re-marrying, starting two businesses of my own, and re-starting ballet.

Along the way I changed a LOT. I am now very flexible, calm, and confident in my own abilities, and have learned to be my own best friend. I have shed (for the most part) the ghosts of child abuse, and feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. I’m at peace with myself and believe that I can handle whatever life throws at me. I face foreclosure of my only asset (my house in my name, separate from my marriage) due to the economy and an extended loss of income. Through all of the difficulties of these last 6 months, I have managed to keep my faith. My main focus has been to find a job and not give up. It’s okay to have ones perfect credit be marred by bad economic times. Houses are only brick and mortar and can be replaced. I have prayed more in these last 6 months than I have ever prayed in my life.

Three weeks ago I got a job. It’s 5 hours a day at the minimum amount that I can survive on, but I feel so incredibly blessed! I love the challenge of doing what I do best, and helping a growing small company by setting up all of their administrative systems. They love me, and I hope to be promoted to full-time within 6 months period of time. Yes, I am blessed to have this job where I am needed and appreciated, at a time when many are losing their jobs.
So, self-improvement can occur in ones life just by a matter of being flexible and adaptable - changing and growing where it is needed to survive and excel. That’s all fine and well for the cerebral aspect, but what about the body?

Losing my mother before her 65 birthday due to long-term complications of diabetes and heart disease, and my own early menopause became a catalyst for change. Over a period of nearly 10 years, I slowly started to put on weight (I was always very thin) and was not able to lose the weight. The reality, menopausal women’s metabolisms slow down and it is imperative to adjust ones eating habits (portion control of carbs is key) and increase exercise. Gone were the days of eating whatever I wanted…

In a 9 month period of time, through diligent hard work (4-6 days a week of ballet, Pilates, killer cardio, and visiting a nutritionist) I lost 27 lbs. As I approach my 49 birthday, I am the strongest, and healthiest that I have ever been in my life. I am indeed blessed. The more time and effort I put into my healthy life style, the better I feel, and the more results I see. Dancing and moving in general just feels so good. I’m so in tune to my body and it’s movement that I revel in it like a child. I smile in wonder at the simplest improvement in my dancing. Yes, I am so blessed and I thank God for letting this mother of 7 and grandmother of 9 to be at this incredible point of life.

My biggest indulgence is impromptu dancing every, single chance I get!!! Now, A week ago I was preparing some of my vintage wedding dresses for sale, and thought it would be fun to take some ballet pictures wearing them. I offer only one picture here. A lace wedding gown from the early 1900’s. (I was VERY careful in those dresses)…

Ballet in a lace wedding gown from the early 1900s

At the Renaissance of my life I embrace my inner child as often as I can. I think THAT is my fountain of youth. So you see what I mean? Self improvement does indeed come in many forms. You’ve only got one life, so live it fully aware, and embrace it! :D