The first time I saw this image I fell in love with it for all it had to say about confidence, and what it truly takes to celebrate life’s triumphs — without looking over your shoulder for the other shoe to drop — and weather its inevitable storms. In my mind, there’s a second sentence that goes with the first:
“Always wear your invisible crown,” it says. “How else will they know you’re royalty?”
As a reader and a writer, I love archetypal language — words like “royalty” that invoke, with centuries’ old associations, deeper truths about the nature of human life. In this context, I’m using the word royalty (assuming, of course, that you aren’t actual royalty) to describe the fact of your own innate worthiness, a worthiness that, as we once said of kings, you have by divine right. To wear your invisible crown is to walk through the world with an inner attitude of confidence that who you are, who you’ve always been, is enough. It’s a confidence born not of accomplishments, but of awareness of your majesty, which neither triumph nor failure can touch. By now you may be thinking, “I’m not royalty, I’m an ob/gyn who just spent all night on call,” or, “I’m a law firm partner exhausted from my 90 hour week,” or “I’m a failed actress who has lost my way.” These may be roles you play, but they aren’t who you are. Who you are is timeless. Your role is temporal. It may change throughout your life time, but what remains constant is the you that lies underneath it all.
If you get overly attached to your role, thinking that it defines who you are, you will run into one of two problems by and by. If you are successful at what you do, you will be surprised by how not-fun your success really is (though success may be heady enough that you don’t notice this for awhile). I’ve seen the not-fun nature of success up close here in Hollywood where I live, and where a good chunk of very successful people are down right miserable, despite the enormous wealth and prestige (or down right fame) that so many enjoy. It’s an interesting thing to watch up close, and it all makes perfect sense. Hollywood is a place, more than most (though this is not the exclusive provence of Hollywood), where your chances for success appear to lie in someone else’s hands. What’s more, your success may have little to do with whether you did the best work. This is true in many fields, by the way; it’s one of those secrets no one tells you about, like the secrets of childbirth, which everyone’s surprisingly mum about.
When our fates feel out of our hands (which to some degree they always are), secret fears tend to bubble up. Our impulse is usually to tamp them down, which may be why people in less predictable careers appear to have higher levels of anxiety, depression and addiction than everyone else (though my friends in the suburbs assure me that their neighbors are as medicated as mine).
What are our secret fears? That it will all end tomorrow, that we don’t really measure up? Whatever the voices in our head may be telling us, our job is to ignore them. It might end tomorrow. You do measure up. Whatever happens “out there”, whether you achieve the next rung on the ladder or lose your grip and fall off, the fact remains that you are the source of our accomplishments, and not the other way around. This bears repeating, and I’ll say it this time in a different way. Your accomplishments didn’t create you. You created your accomplishments. You did it by simply being who you are, by using and developing the talent and gifts that you were given at birth, and by not blocking the flow of life through you and into the world.
Monday night I went to see the author and metaphysician Marianne Williamson at one of her regular weekly talks here in L.A. She talked about all about the chatter going around in our culture about creating our “brand.” It’s something I’ve been talking about a lot this year, so she had my attention from the start. Her point was this: You don’t have to create a brand. You are a brand. Your job is to simply let the brand that you are emerge into the world. And yes, you can craft your brand, shiny it up for the world, but maybe you should let the brand you’re shiny-ing up be the brand you actually are.
If you’ve been successful in life, it’s because of the talents and gifts you were born with and have invested your time in developing further. Sure, you had help along the way. Someone opened a door or offered advice or ran your PR campaign, but you wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t for the simple fact of you being who you are. And who you are is royalty. Put back on your invisible crown. If you do and you experience a set-back — your movie doesn’t perform as you hoped it would at the box office, the world financial markets collapse and you find yourself out of a job, you get sick and lose your looks and are helpless in a way you’ve never been — you will be able to face the moment with grace, and embrace it for the opportunity it represents. And there is always an opportunity. Sometimes the opportunity is intangible. For example, maybe you come to see the worth of your work above and beyond what it did at the box office, or you realize that, in sickness and in health, you are surrounded by people who love and support you. Other times the opportunity hidden in a downturn will be more concrete, as when you find a new direction that you never would have found while ensconced in your former job.
Earlier I mentioned that, when we overly attached to our roles, thinking that they define us, we run into one of two problems by and by. The first problem — the problem of success not being so sweet as we hoped — has already been discussed. The second problem is that our failures will be more bitter than they need to be, sometimes so bitter that they destabilize our lives, making future successes harder to achieve. If you’ve ever faced a failure while your invisible crown was tucked somewhere in the back of the closet, then you know how painful it can be to fail when you think that you are your accomplishments. A failure will make you think that you are a failure, and that will take its psychic toll.
I deliberately use the word failure here instead of reaching for a comfier euphemism because there is power, I think, in facing what failure is and what it has to offer is. Failing is definitely less fun than succeeding, just like winning is more fun than losing. We fear failure and “losing” so much that we give every child a trophy even if they suck at a sport. We think we’re protecting them from life’s disappointments, but what we’re really doing is denying them the opportunity to learn to weather set-backs and use them to build a better life. The truth is, all true progress is by failure. You can ride a bike today because for a period of time, your efforts failed until, finally, you figured out what you needed to know and do to succeed.
Babies find failure natural. They don’t expect to already know how to walk and talk, and they don’t feel any self-recrimination when, trying to walk, they fall. As a result, they master so very many things in such shockingly little time. This gets more difficult as we get older, but if we can make friendship with our failures, even as adults, our failures will serve us, much as they did when we were a very young child.
Sometimes our failures point us in a new direction. Other times they show us something that we need to change or do or know. If we don’t think we are our accomplishments, we will be able to hear what failure is telling us and make use of it in our lives.
There’s an idea in Buddhism that says we ought pay no attention to praise or blame, for both are illusions that keep us bound to the world of punishment and reward. It’s believed that the Buddha put it this way: “Praise and blame…come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.” This does not mean that we should pretend that praise and blame aren’t happening. We should enjoy the joys of our life, and properly grieve every lose. But what we should not do — under any circumstance — is think that who we are is bound to accomplishment or loss. We are so much more.
There’s something I’ve noticed about people who achieve great things, particularly things that required great effort and go against the grain. I notice that they walk through the world with a felt sense of their own true selves. It’s as if they know their brand and are simply living in the service of it. It’s this awareness of self that enables a young athlete to navigate the long and uncertain years that culminate, against great odds, in her becoming an Olympian. Or what enables someone like Steve Jobs to face heartbreaking setbacks and keep going until the power of his vision was so strong and clear that it could not be ignored.
The other path, the path of progress by avoiding punishment and courting reward, keeps us in bondage to the limited vision of the world, which generally cannot imagine things it hasn’t already seen. But when we are steadfast in who we are, when we insist on letting that which is within us come forth, the world usually does catch up. I think here of someone like Alicia Keyes, who opted not to live into industry expectations of what a young female artist should be. She did her, as the hip-hoppers say, and no one has ever doubted for a moment that she did the right thing. Einstein did the same, albeit in a very different era and a very different walk of life. Sitting in that patent office in Bern, Switzerland, a job he’d taken because he found no job in his field, he brought forth ideas about the nature of reality that forever changed world. So it is with us all. We are each here to be something that no one else can be, whatever that may be.
If we don’t plug into who we are, we might still scale the heights, but only the tried and true, officially-approved-of heights. For some people that will be okay — they’re destiny may lie along the tried and true path, though even they will experience the vague anxiety of not being who they really are. If your destiny lies in a less tried and true direction, your struggle will be greater still, because you will know that your life doesn’t fit. The solution, in either case — whether you’re the tried and true type or the off the beaten path type — is to wear your invisible crown…and to cultivate the inner sense of confidence it bestows.
Many years ago, when I was graduating from my Ivy League law school, I made a fateful decision that would shape the course of my life. I made the decision to walk away from the lucrative law firm job that awaited me in order to pursue my dreams. In hindsight, I can see that there was a tidier way to get to my goal. I count my decision to turn down that job one of my greater mistakes. And yet, I came away from it all with gifts that I would not give back. I received the gift of losing status in the world that I did not even know I had. Losing status forced me to find who I really am, separate from my accomplishments or lack thereof. It took years for me to make the journey, but standing here now — on the opposite shore of the vast river that I have crossed — I can say for sure that having a sense of yourself that is independent of whether you happen to be on top this week is liberatory to the extreme. It frees you to pursue your ambitions without fear. It silences the voice yammering in your head about how fabulous you are or how fabulous you’re not. It brings abounding peace. Thus freed, you will be better able to bring forth who you are into a receptive world. And who you are is royalty. Don your invisible crown.
IMAGE via Pinterest
PAULA PURYEAR MARTIN is a screenwriter, essayist, HuffPost blogger and Founder of Revel In It Mag. She is currently creating a cross-platform story brand that will engage the worlds of digital media, publishing and film & television.