I had spiralled down into absolute failure. Being self-aware meant that I KNEW I could be doing better — but had to watch, seemingly helpless, as I destroyed myself more and more every day.
This image was part of one of my many failed projects.
I had decided to do a daily self-portrait. I did 6 (including this one). I can’t tell you how many plans I’ve made, that have failed and never come to fruition. I didn’t even complete my degree! I was a failure, destined to never complete anything.
Fast-forward to now.
I’m not perfect. I still slip up. But the difference is that I now understand a very important idea that I think may help you too:
Whatever you’re doing every day is what you’re succeeding at.
Whether it’s being unreliable, or being consistent.
Whether it’s eating healthy, or giving in to things that affect you negatively (hi, processed sugar).
Do you really think that the successful consistent people out there were always that way?
Do you think you were always bad at whatever it is you currently feel you are bad at?
I’m pretty sure there was a time you weren’t. Just like there was a time that many successful and happy people were once in your shoes, if you’re struggling with consistency.
So look at the things you’ve been doing every day. Zoom in. Look at the types of thoughts you’ve been giving in to, the types of people you’ve been spending time with, the types of things you’ve been saying.
Just like drugs, “just this one time” is a slippery slope. Just like sugar, “just this one time” is a path you don’t want to go down. Anyone who has managed to eat clean for sometime and then suddenly had sugar knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sugar can sometimes be the devil.
But so can your thoughts. And your actions.
Are you constantly letting yourself down? Well, bravo! That’s what you’ve become good at! You’ve been practicing so long, that it’s become a part of you. And it started with that “one time” you thought it would be ok to let yourself down. A few days in a row.
It’s not that everyone is improving while you aren’t… It’s that you actually improved skills that harm you, while others made a daily conscious choice to choose habits/skills that served them.
And while it may look like some have it easy, you’re never really going to have the right to say others have it easier than you do, unless you literally live inside their heads for a week.
So wake up… And stop becoming really good at skills that are only going to hurt you.
I want you to know another very important principle: Whenever you feel bad or good, the opposite side of the spectrum always feels SO far away. But it never is. All it takes is consistent action in the direction you want to go. Not for 10 years. Just a few days of consistent action could already have you feeling better than you did yesterday.
Because that’s what matters. Not the longterm plan. Not the massive goals. But the question that we forget to ask: Is today better than yesterday?
If it is, keep going like this. If it isn’t, make a small change.
And then one day, you’ll look back and realise that you’ve practiced good habits so much, that they are now an effortless part of you. All it takes is that first step.
What part does belief play in our reality? Is hope unhealthy, or necessary? Here are the things I learned from S1E1 of Once Upon a Time.
Belief is necessary for something to become.
I can’t bring up this lesson without also sharing a profound goosebumps-inducing clip from an underwhelming movie based on a brilliant book. What am I talking about? Why, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, of course! In the clip, Death — a surprisingly loveable character in the Discworld series — explains what would’ve happened to the world if he and his granddaughter (played by Cousin Mary from Downton Abbey, fun fact!) hadn’t saved the world. He then goes into a beautiful speech about how important belief is for humanity. I would have simply quoted it here, but I’d rather have you watch the video.
In the beginning of the episode, Henry says to Emma that all the fairytales in his book are true. She scoffs, obviously, and then he asks her to use her “superpower” — she claims to be able to always know when someone is lying — and she is silenced for a moment.
“Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true,” she says.
To which Henry replies:
“That’s exactly what makes it true.”
I could probably wax on for hours on what truth is, but I’m not here to get philosophical.
I will say this though — the theme of belief being necessary for things to become is both a philosophical and spiritual idea, and I would urge you to chase up after this in your research (if you feel compelled to).
Having said that, this sort of idea always brings up arguments in the form of Rachel Anne Dolezal, which is often used as an argument for people to invalidate claimed identity by marginalised individuals. I’d therefore not like to get into this discussion — not because it shouldn’t be had, but because all truths can be untrue to some — but this doesn’t invalidate its absolute truth for others. We are still navigating the tenets of identity and its subtleties, as a species, and so I’m only stating what I know to be true. That doesn’t mean it has to apply to everyone.
“Giving in to one’s dark side never accomplishes anything.”
Archie Hopper, the real-world equivalent of Jiminy Cricket, tells Henry this lightly when he bumps into him with Emma. Emma seems a bit weirded out after the chat related to fairy tales, but this line plays a large role in the overarching theme in the series — that one always has a choice between the right and wrong thing.
Note: “giving in” is very different from “embracing”, the latter being necessary for integration of seemingly out-of-control parts of the self that one might not like. Complex stuff, but… OUAT covers it in future episodes. Watch this space!
“If you love them and they love you — they will always find you.”
At first glance, this might seem like an unhealthy and cheesy line, but I see it as something simpler — and simultaneously more profound.
We often find ourselves chasing unavailable lovers, people who aren’t ready to love or be loved — for various reasons that can include self-worth issues (that “not enough” syndrome is a beast, huh?).
This line, said often by Snow White in various forms, is a reminder that the right relationships will occur because both parties will make equal effort. And sometimes, when you aren’t able to make that effort on a particular day, you can trust that the other party will meet you halfway.
Clever girl, that Snow White.
Art imitates life which imitates art and… back again?
“How’s a book supposed to help?”
“What do you think stories are for? These stories… the classics? There’s a reason we all know them. They’re a way for us to deal with our world, a world that doesn’t always make sense.”
This particular series (if you’re reading this on my blog) is called Mimetic Mirror — named after the concept of mimesis, whereby it’s claimed that art imitates life. I tend to feel that the relationship between art and life is mutual, hence the word “mirror” — and so this series is all about how we can learn truths about life from art.
I feel like this quote is an apt reminder that art — and story-telling art, specifically — help us make sense of the world. When we look at stories, from fiction with its massive fanbase (and resulting celebrity culture), to religious books, we have a consistent stream of inspiration — if we know where to look.
I strongly believe that we can find the answers we need in ourselves, or in the tools we select in front of us. Whether that’s a cartoon, a series, a novel, or a Bible — there is wisdom to be found, if you keep your eyes and ears open to it.
This series is my ambitious but passionate contribution to the pool of resources you might find. A translation of truth, if you like.
Hope is more important than we realise.
“Look, I gave the book to him because I wanted Henry to have the most important thing anyone can have… Hope. Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”
It’s so easy to speak of positive thinking, and tell people to simply be positive.
Sometimes that is difficult.
But there is a step between the landing of utter doom and the clouds of sunny optimism — and that is hope. Hope can be a great stopping point while you gather your energy and strength, and in many cases can be lifesaving.
While some realists may disagree with giving people hope in certain situations, I really believe that it ends up being the saving grace in impossible situations at times. There’s such a fine line between hope and belief, I find, and I think a gentle hope in the back of the mind can be nothing but positive in terms of how it influences our behaviour. Just as long as that hope doesn’t take us over — and become the only driving force in our lives.
As Snow White says above, believing in the possibility of a happy ending can be powerful — just as long as we don’t define that happy ending too specifically. The key — as always — is to act without expectation of specifics. Any sort of happy ending will do (er).
Sometimes people leave for our own good.
”You dont have to be hostile. I know you like me. I can tell. You’re just pushing me away because I make you feel guilty. It’s ok. I know why you gave me away. You wanted to give me my best chance.”
Have you ever looked at someone you had once cried over, and realised that their departure was a gift in some way? It could be for the simple reason that it made you grow — or it could be because they turned out to be an awful fit.
I bumped into an awful ex of mine two days ago. One of those small men who gets a kick out of jokes at other people’s expense, a boy who lets his lack of self-awareness affect those who he can’t touch. A fellow who invests so much importance in his style because he needs to cover up the lack of character that lives inside. You know the kind (well, I hope you don’t).
He made a mumbled comment, we hugged amicably with a meaningless “how are you” as I was a bit distracted by the fact that I was on Voxer. As he walked away, hurrying to catch up with the two ladies he was with, he turned around and pointed at his face, saying (with a smile), “Wow! You’re a bit red in the face!” (I have a skin condition called rosacea). It reminded me of the “joking” comments he had made about my music career, body, and clothing in an equally juvenile way.
As I looked at him with my face scrunched up in the face-scrunchy version of an eye-roll, he laughed to himself and walked off. And I realised at that moment that I was so grateful he had ended things, and that his toxic behaviour was as far away from me as possible. He clearly hadn’t grown in the 2 years since we had connected — and I was grateful for the gift of his absence.
So while Emma left with a conscious awareness that her departure would be better for Henry, sometimes people’s absence is a gift that you only truly understand much later.
I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of the lessons learned from the characters in Once Upon a Time — let me know if you watch the show too, and whether this was helpful!
Apart from finding life lessons in TV shows and films, I also create unique photography experiences for gentle souls. Click here to find out more. If you’d like to hear from me in your inbox, click here.
“I get this feeling that you’re lying about something, Melissa. Like you’re just not telling me something.”
I sighed deeply on the phone.
“You’re right,” I slowly admitted, “you’re right, Daddy.”
It had been over a year of me making up excuse after excuse on why my website wasn’t up. I was starting to worry my friends, my acquaintances — and now my family.
Somehow, it had been over 5 years since I had written just to write. I could rattle out copy for other people with zero effort, and I could create an emotionally honest Instagram/Facebook post while half asleep. But the blogging I had done for years with the ease of a baby dolphin in water — well, that had somehow become so difficult that I had found every excuse under the sun.
But the truth was that I was scared.
“Why?” asked my ever-patient dad. “Is it failure you’re afraid of?”
I started crying. It wasn’t any old future failure I was afraid of, but confirmation of my current failure.
“I’m afraid that I’m not good enough,” I began. “I’m afraid that I’ve lost what I once had, and that I’m no longer a writer.”
Saying those words out loud was like a release, if only because they sounded so ridiculous to my ears. My father seemed to think the same thing, because he chuckled and told me not to be silly.
“You can’t lose things like that, Melissa.” I rolled my eyes, thinking he didn’t understand, as I listened to him continue. “I may not be in the same industry, but I have this sometimes, too. The trick is this: You just have to start.”
His last words rung in my ears, with a familiarity that only a lesson you already know could have. “Just begin — let it fail, even. You’ll figure it out. You’ve read so much. It’s in there already — it’s just a matter of it coming out.”
Little did my father know just how much truth he had just spoken. Was he aware, that day, that he had saved me? Probably not.
Because here is the truth, dear reader:
After the marketing industry had just about killed my inner artist, whenever I thought about writing, I was filled with inner-critic thoughts about the final product that I needed to create. I had forgotten that my best work was created by simply starting, and letting my trust in myself take me over. No great work has ever been conceived in its entirety before it was started. The point of art is in the journey, to different degrees, and stopping that flow is what is killing artists and stopping their success before it even gets a chance to become.
So today I’d like to challenge you to start that thing you have been putting off — and remember that your only two tasks are as follows:
Trust yourself to do what is right — whether that is continuing with it, or quitting prematurely. There is no wrong answer.
I wrote this in honour of Father’s Day. My father had an 18 year old rebel dumped on him after having been denied the experience of being a father for most of my life. Despite our massive differences — he is a logical engineer, I am an artist who lives in a fantasy world — he has shown patience, growth, and understanding that can only be matched by some of the best people in the world. He is a simple man in some ways, and yet has guided me better than any person with my complexity ever could have. While many men choose to run and hide from what they fear, my father chose to take on the baggage of an adult he couldn’t raise as a child, with all the problems that could come with someone who (at the time) suffered from chronic physical and mental illness. I owe him gratitude and love, as much of who I am today is thanks to a man who chose to do the right thing — every day — even when he could’ve chosen otherwise. I am glad I got to witness what it means to be a good father.