I keep referring to Florence Littauer’s book Personality Plus – simply because it held the key to my personal development.
Funnily enough, reading this book and others recommended by my ‘Network 21’ support group (see my first Self-Esteem post) and listening to speakers talk about their lives and their challenges brought me back to my childhood.
As a little girl up to the age of 6, I was my mother’s “darling Shirley-Anne”. She adored me and I idolised her. She took me shopping, bought me pretty dresses and sang to me at bedtime. I was perfectly happy. She made me feel important.
Things changed as I grew up. I spent less time with Mum and more with Dad, learning about the sharemarket. I was absorbed with books and learning to play the piano. I told her I didn’t want to wear dresses and preferred shorts and T-shirts! I didn’t want my ears pierced either. She was disappointed because I now had an opinion which conflicted with hers.
Her words kept echoing even many years into my adulthood: “Let me choose your outfit for you, you might buy the wrong thing!” … said to me as a teenager wanting something new to wear at a party. And: “… you really should get your ears pierced and use earrings – you need to light your face up!” Whenever I was paid a compliment, she’d say, “Yes, she’s just like her mother!”; or “of course she’s smart, she learnt from me.” It was so different from Dad’s “Yes, that’s my Shirl”, as he patted my head.
Dad worked hard as a stockbroker, and his business soon flourished. He loved his friends (usually also his clients) who came from all walks of life. He spent most of his time with them. My mother didn’t ‘fit in’ with his crowd, feeling more at home as an executive secretary at the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, and showered with gifts from bosses and appreciative customers.
But she had strengths I have always admired, and still do. She learnt shorthand in a Japanese internment camp in Singapore during the War. She worked straight after the war as a stenographer and within months was elevated to executive secretary. She earned more than my father in his government job, and helped support her mother, sisters and brothers. She sent me to Sydney in the 1960s to complete high school, and helped Dad buy a seat in a stockbroking firm (where he did extremely well).
But she had one weakness. She wanted control. We had to listen to her because her advice was better than anyone else’s. She craved attention and praise even if it meant taking it away from people she loved. She would keep reminding us of the sacrifices she made.
This trait is explained so well in Wayne Dyer’s book, Your Erroneous Zones:
“Love is a word that has as many definitions as there are people to define it. [It’s the] ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.”1
Mum retired from work at 50. She kept saying I was her “Rock of Gibraltar” – but really, she wanted me all to herself. She showed signs of depression (casually referred to as a “nervous breakdown” in the 1970s). I was the eldest worrying daughter who was there by her side, wanting so much to help her. Of course I couldn’t; she needed professional help, which she refused.
In hindsight, I should have been more assertive and not allowed myself to be dominated. But that realisation only became clear as I sat through the Network 21 seminars, and read more books.
Even at nearly 40 years of age, I was the proverbial doormat and lacked personal direction and goals. Now I had a choice: either to be influenced by past conditioning or to take control and change. How could I achieve this?
As I’ve said before in my posts: when you’re ready, a way will appear. This time it was the book Believe You Can by Allen Carmichael:
“Far too many people, in making what they think is a positive decision, spend too much time thinking about how the result can be achieved. The decision must be made on the WHY not the HOW. … the desire to change must precede commitment to ACTION.”2
So this was my weakness: over-thinking, over-analysing, and no action!
I wrote these words and put them under my pillow:
And it did.
In books, tapes, meetings and my Network 21 support group, I got all the help I needed. But perhaps I also needed to heed Mum’s advice about makeup and skincare …
Throughout my singing career, I applied foundation, rouge on Mum’s insistence (she said my skin “lacked colour”), a bit of eyeshadow – all later washed off with simple soap and water. Tania Belej from my support group came to the rescue, spending an hour with me using Amway’s ‘Artistry’ product range to “Cleanse, Tone, Moisturise”. WOW! My skin glowed. I was so excited. I bought the products and have never used other brands since. I now had a practical skincare routine and of all people I became good at this, doing “beauty breaks” with family and friends.
Next, it was clothes. I was clueless. On stage singing with my aunt Margaret in the ‘70s, I wore tailor-made outfits, with styles picked from fashion books and material bought from Hilda’s (then a large retail clothing store in Singapore). Later in Sydney, I stuck to drab-coloured wear, mainly because I couldn’t find off-the-shelf clothes to fit me, and I was too afraid to try anything on.
In the 90s, Network 21 invited an image consultant, Vivienne Cable, to talk about matching your complexion with the right “cool” or “warm” colours in clothes. I saw Viv then at her Sydney store. She knew exactly what to do with me, and with sizes 6–8 available, I was in heaven … and best of all she said I could wear black (the colour Mum said I should never use!). Viv now consults by appointment only; please contact me and I’ll pass your details on to her.
The very last step for me was to change from within.
Emotionally, I was a habitual worrier, lacked confidence and was scared of anything I couldn’t control. I resisted even the slightest urge to express my opinion, fearing no one would agree with me and that it would start an argument. I had to overcome my fears and anxiety to complete my transformation.
‘FEAR’ = False Evidence Appearing Real.
I conquered it by deliberately putting myself in situations I would never contemplate being in, for instance:
- Driving further than 10km away from home in the evenings when it got dark. I saw prospects in Outer Western Sydney, the Upper North Shore and as far south as Wollongong. In spite of my map and written directions, I’d inevitably get lost. Where were those house numbers or street names?? Sweat was pouring. I stopped to look at the map again, sipping tea from my flask. How good did I feel when I found the place!
- Piercing my ears, tattooing my eyebrows and using electrolysis (not wax) to remove hair from my upper lip. All involved some pain and embarrassment. But you know what? I met the loveliest people in my search and best of all discovered ‘Emla’ cream!
- I role-played with a very patient mentor who fired questions and objections at me on the phone. How absurd I thought at first! I stuttered, hesitated, couldn’t find the words; I was hopeless. “You can do this” I was told, “Keep going!” And after nearly 100 pretend phone calls later, I got better. I was able to speak assertively with confidence and conviction. Almost there. Now I had to do this on my own with real people.
So thank you Tania, Vivienne and my patient mentor. My self-esteem returned at 45 and has grown exponentially!
My next post will be on Posture: and it’s not about walking while balancing a book on your head. It’s another secret to success.
1 Carmichael, A. (1993). Believe You Can, p.37. Wrightbooks Pty Ltd: North Brighton, Victoria.
2 Dyer, W.W. (1976). Your Erroneous Zones, pp.29–30. Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd: Aylesbury, Bucks, United Kingdom.