Do you feel like you aren’t living the life you want to live? Are you letting fear stop you from following your heart? Do you find it hard to listen to your own voice because those of society, friends, and family blare in your head? In her new book, It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self, Dr. Davina Kotulski shows readers how to take back their lives from the paralysis of fear by following their inner compass. If becoming a better You is on your list of upcoming resolutions for New Year’s, the timing of this title couldn’t be better.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: “The best way to succeed in life,” wrote an unknown author, “is to act on the advice we give to others.” Tell us a bit about your own journey as a professional giver of guidance to those who believe their lives either need redirection, reclamation or a bit of both.
A: As a teenager, I entered AA realizing that using alcohol whether as a means of coping with the persecution I faced or for the enjoyment of intoxication was going to impact my life in a negative way. Clean and sober, I became fascinated with why people did what they did and how they contributed to their own happiness or success based on their thoughts and actions. I wanted to understand how people repeated family patterns and how their lives could go so off-course. My own extended family history included alcoholism, extramarital affairs, depression and domestic violence. After taking Psych 101, I decided to get my Ph.D. in Psychology and devoted my life to learning about the human psyche, while also dabbling with spiritual concepts.
Q: Why are you passionate about helping people live authentic lives?
A: People who are living authentic lives are happier, more at peace and create a better world than people who are hiding who they are, people-pleasing, or chasing after false rewards. Living inauthentically can lead to resentment, addiction, materialism, and even violence against oneself and others. People who are living authentically are connected to their hearts and their essential nature, and because of this they are more compassionate and more aware of their impact on the world and others. We need more awakened and authentic people if we are going to make the changes necessary to preserve our Earth.
Q: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you and how have you applied it to the person you are today?
A: When I was in my mid-20s I read a book by Dale Carnegie called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. It was written years ago, however it’s still relevant today. One of the things Carnegie has you do is address your fears head-on. Many of us tend to awfulize at various times in our lives, expecting the worst. Carnegie reassures you that the worst rarely happens. However, he then asks you how you would cope with your worst case scenario. Then a lesser version of that and so on. If you can imagine how you would cope with your worst case scenario, you will become resourceful and resilient. You will also be more willing to take calculated risks, rather than staying stagnant because you’ve built a sense of relaxed confidence within you on how to deal with life’s challenges. I think this piece of wisdom has helped me face fears and uncertainties in my career endeavors, relationships health issues and so on. It’s given me strength to go after my dreams, find solutions, and steady myself in trying times.
Q: In my own profession, I often hear people say, “Someday I’m going to write my novel. Someday I’m going to write my memoir. Someday I’m going to (fill in the blank).” Someday, however, just never seems to come for them because they fill up the weeks, months and even years with activities that seemingly have nothing to do with the pursuit of their own dream. Why are they being their own speedbump on the way to a destination they say they really want?
A: People procrastinate for a variety of reasons. Perfectionism is one. If it can’t be perfect or they don’t know how they will accomplish the whole enchilada, they won’t even start. They also think they can do everything on their own. When we want to make a significant change or take on an important project it’s important to take these four important steps. 1. Get a mentor. Find someone who has done what you want to do or who knows how to coach you through the process. This could be a life coach or a teacher. 2. Get support. Find a group of supportive people, a community who is doing something similar. Don’t go it alone. 3. Take baby steps. Plot out the steps you need to take. You can’t do everything at once. 4. Create a timeline. You need a game plan and you need to create a realistic timeline in which you will take the steps, whether it be to write the pages of your novel, or build your new business.
Q: As creatures of habit, we often balk at the thought of change. Why, though, can a change in the status quo actually be beneficial to our growth and our state of well-being?
A: Change by its very nature creates uncertainty. We love our routines. They bind our anxiety. We’ve learned the maze and we know where to find our cheese. Once we start making changes, we open ourselves up to uncomfortable feelings. However, if we can move through those uncomfortable feelings, we expand our comfort zone. In my book, It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self, I talk about how I quit my stable government job at the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession 10 years ago. I had given my notice to go out on my own and the next day the news announced we were in a recession. My boss asked me if I wanted to change my mind and rescind my notice. He and other co-workers thought I was nuts to leave my secure job at such an uncertain time. I was filled with excitement about going into business for myself and said I had no intention of changing my mind. I was struck by how fearful they were and honestly how much money and the fear of not having it owned them. I was putting my trust in something bigger. While I worked on growing my practice, I also used my extra time to write a book. On my drive to the café where I wrote. I would listen to Tony Robbin’s Powertalk tapes. The Powertalk audio program was recorded in 1992 and one of the tapes talked about a horrible recession the country was in. There was a recession in 1992? I had no idea. I was in my first year of graduate studies at the time and had no awareness of the country’s economic concerns. Listening to people talk about the 1992 recession and how they thought it was the end of the world gave me hope. The current recession couldn’t last forever. On the tapes, people shared how they made themselves immune to the 1992 recession by being flexible and making peace with change. The people who were most successful during the 1992 recession were people who could proverbially roll with the punches. It was then that I became clear how much change has to offer us.
Q: What are some ways people can manage change in their lives?
A: Like the trick I learned from Dale Carnegie, learn how to be with change. Turn your attention away from the problems and the disappointments in your life or what you’re losing with this change. Instead notice what is working for you—the things that are going smoothly, and get excited about the opportunities that are opening up.
Q: Change, of course, is frequently thrust upon us by powers outside of our personal control. When a major life event such as a death in the family, divorce, catastrophic illness, or loss of a job sends us into a tailspin, how can we embrace a positive mindset in order to restore balance, self-esteem and a sense of purpose?
A: Whether we are choosing change or change is choosing us, we must all learn to stabilize ourselves. It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self focuses on how to create peace within yourself so you can navigate the waves of change that come into your life. We are not statues. We need to be flexible. The more we can be flexible and unattached, the more at peace we will feel. The more we can trust the cycles of life.
Q: What are some tips you have for readers about how to connect with their authentic essence?
A: If you want to connect with your authentic essence, you have to slow down. Practices like meditation, going for walks, being in nature, contemplation and stillness will help you create spaciousness for yourself.
Q: Your book makes reference to one’s “inner compass.” How do you define this?
A: Your inner compass is the intelligence of your heart. Your heart, the seat of the soul and the place of compassion and love, not romantic love, that greater love of life, is your inner compass. It knows what’s true. It’s calling to you, it guides you. We may ignore it. We may try to rationalize away its call. However, the heart is truly an inner compass that will point you in the most authentic direction for you, moment to moment. The more open your heart is and the more connected you are with it, the more accurate your reading will be.
Q: What does courage have to do with this and what do you mean by courageous heart?
A: The biggest reasons people give for not being true to themselves and not going after their dreams is fear. People are afraid of looking stupid, losing other people’s approval and respect. People fear failure and ending up penniless. People are afraid of change and risks. However, if you don’t make changes and don’t take risks, you will never grow. So you must find your courage if you want to truly be yourself and live an authentic, self-authored life which involves sharing your talent, gifts, values, personal truths, sensibilities, and passions. That takes courage. The word courage comes from the Latin cor, meaning “heart.” Courage is having the confidence to act in line with our convictions and passions, which are a heart-related matter. It involves our ability to face difficulty, danger, and pain with bravery. The expression “to take heart” means to revive your courage. To have courage is to have a strong heart, and to live from your heart requires an act of courage. Opening your heart is the basis for living a life aligned with your true essence. This is what I mean by having a courageous heart and taking the journey of the courageous heart is to allow yourself to be guided by the more fluid and open parts of yourself, connecting with joy, being open to life, being led by intuition, emotion, and feeling, and following hunches.
Q: You also use a wonderful term called hearticulation™. Tell us about this.
A: Hearticulation is a process I created of deep inquiry where you clear out the mental clutter and articulate what really matters to you in your life. Not just in the moment, in the big picture. What are the gifts you want to contribute to the world? What is your real calling? How do you want to create your life, not just follow the trends and expectations that the media and society has laid out for you?
Q: Is this book just for people in their mid-life?
A: This is a great book for people at any stage of their life who want to live a more authentic, self-authored life and connect with their essential nature. It could be a young person who wants to really get clear on how they want to design their lives and take active steps to creating that. It’s for people in their 30s and 40s who may have found themselves climbing the ladder and following social convention and realize it’s not actually what they want. It’s for people at any stage of life who find themselves dissatisfied with their lives and want to create a more fulfilling, purposeful life. It’s for people who’ve experienced a layoff, a divorce, or some sort of unexpected loss and want to find their way again or reinvent themselves. It’s for people who are getting close to retirement or those who’ve retired and want to create a thriving, meaningful second half of life.
Q: It was Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero’s Journey, who wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” What are your thoughts about this and how can readers learn to recognize fear for the illusion it really is?
A: I love this quote and I love Joseph Campbell. I love the notion of The Hero’s Journey. In fact, it’s not a notion; it’s a real rite of passage that we go through again and again as we face life. Fear stops us from leaping. Fear keeps us small and cons us into believing that if we play it safe we’ll stay safe. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Everything changes. Life is constantly shifting. We must go boldly in the direction of our dreams as Henry David Thoreau said. I don’t care if you go boldly, you can crawl there and whimper as you go, just do it. Move towards your dreams, not away from them. This isn’t a proscription to be stupid or reckless with your life and resources, or someone else’s. It is however, an invitation to invest in yourself and what you truly value. If something scares you, ask yourself “Is my mind telling me it’s a bad idea because it’s telling me I will fail? Is it telling me I’m being foolish?”
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Professionally, my focus is to bring readers together who resonate deeply with It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self and want to take back their lives. These readers will engage in two 90-day 8 session webinars in which we’ll delve deep into the material of the book, go through the exercises and practices and create transformational change in their lives. On a personal note, I have a few more writing projects I’m working on. Another self-empowerment book that deals with spiritual fortitude on the journey and a novel about a young writer struggling with heartbreak and writer’s block.
Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?
A: Readers can go to my website DavinaKotulski.com or FollowYourCourgaeousHeart.Com to connect with me, find out about my upcoming live webinars and book tour events, and sign up to receive my free online class and download their free hearticulation worksheets.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for your thought-provoking questions and for the opportunity to share with your readers. It was a true pleasure.