Finally, the oppressive Austin heat is subsiding and it’s a fairly cool morning compared to what it has been. Still hot, I’m splayed out like a dead cat on the couch, here on the back porch overlooking the cattle in the back 40 (fortunately they’re my neighbors’ cattle to care for). My body is totally relaxed, with legs up on the old wicker coffee table, and my back is barely upright, head leaning into the back of the couch, and my arms were just extended out to the sides with an empty coffee mug dangling from my limp fingers. Finally, I can relax.
Heading to Europe Next
It’s been a whirlwind crazy time. A week ago today I finished up a week of painting at Ghost Ranch, home of Georgia O’Keeffe. I was the fearless leader of 98 painters, and though we had a great time, my time in the office playing “catch up” afterward was brutal. So today I relax … and tomorrow I board a big bird to paint in Saint-Paul De Vence, France, for a few days with friends before meeting up with our Fine Art Trip through the South of France and then Scotland. Though I’m leading a group of about 40, it’s our vacation too, so I’m getting excited.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. A week of painting with friends is about the best week a guy can have. And the beauty was amazing.
Flipping the Bird
One day last week I took the morning off from painting to take pictures. Stopping along Monastery Road to talk with some painters, they told me that on the way there they had passed one of the members of the group who was driving slowly on the windy road. As they passed her, the woman leaned out the window as if to wave, but instead gave them “the finger.” They were appalled that anyone would have that reaction just because they wanted to pass, but then to see it was someone within our own group (who probably did not recognize them), they were mortified. They went on to say they had noticed she had not fit in, and was sort of grumpy and not joy-filled like the others in the group.They referred to her as kind of a bully.
I was speechless. And the first thing that crossed my mind was “She must be hurting.” I know, because I’ve been there. When I was bullied, I wanted to fight back. But we never know what someone else is going through at the time.
Victim of Bullying
As a child I was heavily bullied. I was one of the school “fat kids,” and I could not get a break. It seemed like every encounter with most of the other kids was unpleasant. I was called names, I was the last one left when picking teams, and I was generally unpopular. I remember one time before gym class when all the boys in the locker room started mocking me, calling me names, and snapping my naked fat body with their towels. Though I wanted to cry, I pretended it was funny. But it was everything but funny. I cried endless hours at home, wondering “Why me?” I dreaded going to school and dreaded gym even more.
The Pain of Reinvention
I begged my parents to let me change schools. They had no idea what was going on or the depth of the problem. Eventually I moved schools and reinvented myself without the years of baggage and image I’d have had to overcome with the other kids. And as painful as it was, that pain resulted in my reinvention and becoming who I am today. It did not seem like it at the time, but it was a blessing.
There are two kinds of bullies — external and internal. And I suspect all external bullies are rooted in internal bullies. In other words, people who bully others are dealing with some tough stuff, and the only thing that makes them feel better is to belittle or bully others. This, I suspect, was what was happening with the woman who gave the other ladies “the bird.”
Bound with Chains
Sadly, the bully inside binds us all with chains, and we become stuck in this prison cell inside our heads.
Why, if we love ourselves as we should, would we bully ourselves with negative self-talk? It’s awful to bully, berate, or be critical of others, but it’s even worse to do it to ourselves.
A Good Reason
I know … you’re this way because of your conditions. You grew up with abusive parents. You had abusive siblings or aunts and uncles. Your parents made you work on the farm. Someone in your family drank too much. You had a traumatic event in your life. You were poor. You were hungry. You were embarrassed. Your parents did not give you enough time or love. Fill in the blank here.
Refusing to Let Conditions Kill You
I have not walked in your shoes. You have not walked in the shoes of others. But I can tell you this. Everyone has conditions, history, difficult things that have happened.
How is it that a woman who was kidnapped, raped by a platoon of soldiers, and then sold into sex trafficking can ever possibly have a smile on her face again? It’s because she, and others like her who have had horrific things happen to them, refuse to live their conditions. (I recently heard a woman tell this story with a forgiving heart.)
You are not your conditions.
You are not the conditions of your past or your present. Conditions do not define you. You have to rise above your conditions and show people that the only condition you’re willing to accept is that you are able to adapt and not willing to let anything destroy you.
What is it about some people you meet that makes you instantly know you want to be around them? Usually it’s because they have a big smile on their face, they are welcoming, they are non-judgmental, and they are happy. You want to be around them because they believe in themselves, and they believe in you, that you bring value to the world, no matter what.
Yes, I Served Time
I used to be in prison … locked away by my negative self-talk. For instance, I was invited by the BeeGees to a party at their home, yet I declined because I felt I was not worthy to hang out with such famous people. The same thing happened when comedian Red Skelton invited me to take him shopping. I declined. “Why would they want this useless fat kid from Indiana?” I thought.
I was living my conditions. After years of bullying in elementary, junior high, and even high school, I started to believe the things the mean kids said about me. So I got fatter to protect myself, I had low self-esteem, and I was depressed and lonely. “Why would anyone want to be around me?” I thought.
The Pretend Me
But there were two of me … the radio DJ no one could see, who could have fun and entertain on the radio, and the me that others could see in person. I had unknowingly separated them. One had no limits, no boundaries, could be fun and entertaining — the other was still living in my prison. And I carried this around with me for years.
Eventually I managed to lose weight and become the me I wanted to be. I became more outgoing, and pretended to have my act together, yet for years I carried that belief: “What could I possibly have to offer?”
A Simple Solution
I spent a fortune on therapy. I destroyed a lot of relationships and a marriage because of my internal prison. It turns out, all I had to do was change my perspective, stop my negative self-talk, and realize that I was of value to others, that they wanted to be around me.
My life changed. My career changed. My world changed, and now I am driven to help others get beyond their prison. I live my own life on my own terms.
We tell ourselves that conditions will change everything … you know: “If only I get a bigger house, a nicer car, a more attractive partner, a prettier boat, a slimmer body, or a better job…” New external conditions may heal your wounds for a couple of days or a few weeks, but the only way to feel better in the long run is to tell yourself you’re no longer going to be imprisoned. Break the chains and walk out. Yes, it’s that easy.
Rich and Still in Prison
I know people who are ultra-wealthy, have lots of big houses and fancy cars, have trophy wives or husbands, have incredible companies or fame, yet they too are in prison, looking for more so they can feel better about themselves. They are stuck in their mind prison, stuck in self-pity, stuck in their past conditions, and bullying themselves.
STOP bullying yourself. Stop beating yourself up. You cannot change your life as long as you are your own enemy and you’re always shooting yourself with bullets, always reliving all the bad things that happened to you, always reliving the conditions you were in or are in now.
When you’re in prison, you start looking for problems, start believing all the negatives, start buying into all the bad things in the world that you can’t change. You become someone no one wants to be around — which of course fuels your own conviction that no one wants to be around you.
This is worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw
You cannot bully yourself. You have to love yourself.
You cannot truly love others until you can love yourself. You can’t give of yourself until you love yourself.
But my conditions, my horrible life, my horrible parents … stop it. It is what it is, you can’t change it. You can only change how you process it. Do you really want your past to hold you hostage? Forgive. It won’t be easy. But you’re doing it for you, and that makes it easier.
There are no guards in this prison … well, just one. You are the only one holding yourself in prison.
Dr. Sean Stevenson (1979-2019), whom I met three times, said, “True freedom is to drop out of your mind into your heart.”
It’s Your Own Choice
No matter what has happened “to” you, no matter your conditions, you have the freedom to choose how you let it impact you. You can choose a happy life, a great attitude, a big rich smile that is rooted in confidence.
When you love yourself, whether you’re living in the biggest house in town or homeless on the streets, whether you have endless money or don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you are free. Free of negatives, free of self-pity, free of letting bad things bring you down.
When you live from the heart, when you shed the chains of disaster and negativity, you can hold your head high and face anything. Best of all, your conditions are no longer who you are.
Bullets Bounce Off
This new approach won’t keep you from having problems. You’ll have just as many, but they won’t wound you. The bullets will bounce off your chest. It does not mean they won’t hurt, but they won’t define you. And the side benefit is that you’ll instantly draw others to you because of your confidence and that big, genuine smile. No longer will you need to kick others down to make yourself feel better. No longer will you buy in to the lies and negativity you or others have been feeding you.
Don’t Let Them Beat You Down
You’ll be told a lot of things in your life, but push those things out unless they’re empowering or helpful. We all get negative thoughts, but you can choose to push them away or absorb them. If you absorb, it changes your personality, and scientifically, changes your physiology. Don’t let the negative win.
Oh, and you may have to change friends, because pity loves company and once you drop the pity, your pitiful friends won’t want you around. Yet you’ll become a magnet to others who want to be around you because of who you’ve become.
The bully within is a powerful monster. All bullies are monsters. Take it by the horns and push it out of your life. It’s not easy, it takes time, but you will soon notice that your self-talk has changed and you’ll be loving yourself and boosting your own confidence. You are valuable to others. Embrace it and watch what happens.
PS: Now that we’re in the fourth quarter, it’s time to start thinking about what you want to change in your life for next year. Actually giving thought early (rather than only on New Year’s Eve) is a good idea so you can make a plan and implement it. You don’t have to live with things as they are, you can change directions and see amazing results even in 90 days. (My dad engrained this into me.) No one else owns or controls you. These are your choices and yours alone.
PS2: When I made up my mind that I wanted to learn to paint, my head trash was awful. “You can’t do it, you can’t draw a straight line or a stick figure.” I never believed what was possible, yet today I can hold my own, though I’ve got more I want to accomplish. There is a rare and special moment in time happening this November, where we’ve done what others said was impossible. We’ve gathered the very top artists/masters in the world to teach at our Figurative Art Convention & Expo. You can learn, or grow, or expand your knowledge in portraits, figures, drawing, painting, even still life and plein air. It’s happening one time only in Williamsburg, never to return. Don’t let your self-talk or your excuses win. You can do this. Of all things, we had our website crash last week on the day our early bird price expired, which made some people upset. So we extended it till tonight at midnight. Though it’s OK to pay $500 more after tonight, that’s enough savings to pay for a flight. Grab it while you can.
PS3: I cannot guarantee that I’ll be in a position to get Sunday Coffee done when I’m in Europe the next couple of weeks. I plan to try, but that is going to mean getting them done at 10 p.m. so you get them on time. So, if I don’t show up, you’ll know why. Or I may just grab something from the past. (If you want to browse them all, you can find them and subscribe free at www.coffeewitheric.com.)