Life Is Not A Dress Rehearsal

“First say to yourself what you would BE; then DO what you have to do.” Epictetus

I’m not particularly fond of cliches. But there are a couple of them that I like and try to live by. One says, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” In other words, focus on today. The past is over and the future may never come. So now … today … the present time … is the real show. It’s not a dress rehearsal for “life” that may start later on.

The other cliche says, “You only go around once.” You don’t get to be like Bill Murray in the movie “Ground Hog Day.” You don’t get to live the same day over and over again. So you’d better make each day count.

One of the key ways you make every day count is to live a life filled with self-esteem and self-confidence. With that in place, you simply cannot lose. I talked about that in last week’s Tip.

And I wrote extensively about that in my book, “PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success.” (For special pricing, just go to )

As I mentioned in last week’s Tip, self-esteem starts with a FOUNDATION of unconditional love and acceptance. And that foundation has FOUR PILLARS. When all four pillars are in place, your self-esteem will be unshakeable. Let me explain.

PILLAR #1: SIGNIFICANCE… I make a difference.

The first pillar declares that you were created for a reason. You matter. Your life counts. Or as Webster would say in his dictionary, “significance” means that you have the “quality of importance” about you.

No matter what somebody else might say or try to make you believe, YOU ARE SIGNIFICANT. You’ve got to believe that. You’ve got to believe that you are or you can make a difference in the world.

When I worked as a therapist at Boysville of Michigan, it was a belief I tried to instill in the inmates … that they had value. And it’s a lesson that Don McGee, a prison system executive, continues to teach. He tells the inmates, “Everyone is born a somebody. You choose whether to stay a somebody or not by how you act.”

PILLAR #2: COMPETENCE… I have skill.

I believe everybody has a number of talents, strengths, and abilities. The more you’re aware of your skills, the more you master and use those skills, the better your self-esteem will be. Competence and confidence go hand in hand.

Of course, most people aren’t born with great competence or skill. Most people aren’t “born leaders” or “born salespeople” or “born anything.” Most people have to work at it. They’ve got to learn, learn, learn, and practice, practice, practice.

And a part of that learning is learning how to defy the negative labels others put on you. Negative labels kill off your confidence and suppress your competence. But the real winners learn how to defy those labels.

Take Clint Eastwood, for example. He was told by an executive at Universal Pictures that he “had no future as an actor” because he had a chipped tooth, an Adam’s apple that was too prominent, and talked too slowly.

Along similar lines, best-selling millionaire author Scott Turow was given an “F” by his high school English teacher because he couldn’t write. Boxer Joe Louis was knocked down six times in his first fight and was labeled by one sportswriter as a “doormat with no future.” And Charles Schultz, creator of “Peanuts,” was turned down for a job as a cartoonist at the Disney studios because he “lacked talent.”

As author Don Kennedy states, “It is important to note that successful people tend to defy labels past and present… WITH their actions. Unsuccessful people accept and conform to their labels… BY their actions.”

Joan Rivers showed us that. The “washed-up has-been” label was sewn on her after the loss of her talk show and the suicide of her husband. And it was sewn on her by her own agent and manager, her many supposed friends, and the media.

But Joan defied the label with grit, hard work, humor, talent, and a willingness to go through any door of opportunity she could find. She refused to let her actions be limited or dictated by the label others were so eager to give her.

Joan Rivers learned that competence is not a matter of never failing. And it’s not a matter of pretending that failure doesn’t exist … as some people would suggest.

When I was speaking in the United Kingdom last year, I was surprised by an article in “The Daily Telegraph” on July 20, 2005. Liz Beattie, the field officer for The Professional Association of Teachers, said, “It is time to delete the word ‘FAIL’ from the educational vocabulary to be replaced with the concept of ‘DEFERRED SUCCESS’.” As she explained, “I’d rather tell kids that they have done ‘jolly well,’ because the word ‘fail’ might hurt someone’s self-esteem.

I beg to differ. Self-esteem is built when a person learns to move past a failure and when a person achieves competence. It is not built by switching to politically correct terminology — such as “deferred success.”

PILLAR #3: POWER… I run my own life.

People often think of power as dominance … or as power “over” someone. I’m not talking about that.

People who build high self-esteem run their own lives rather than let others run it for them. You see it in Debbie Fields, the founder of Mrs. Fields’ Cookies. Even though she is one of the best known and most successful women entrepreneurs of our time, she had to fight all the business acquaintances, bankers, family members, friends, vendors, and suppliers who tried to run her life and her business. After all, they had her labelled as an “empty-headed house wife.”

Who’s running your life? Are you seizing the power to run your own life? Or are you tossed to and fro by the whims of everyone else?

Mahatma Gandhi said it very well. He said, “They cannot take away your self-respect if we do not give it to them.” So don’t give it to them.

PILLAR #4: VIRTUE… I am a good person.

It’s the last of the four self-esteem pillars — but without this pillar, the whole house falls. After all, how can you possibly feel good about yourself if you aren’t good?

Think about it. There are lots of people who have erected the first three columns — but still lack self-esteem. Oh, they may have SIGNIFICANCE; they know they’re making a difference of some sort. They have COMPETENCE; no one would argue that they’re not skilled. And they’re exerting POWER, running their own lives. But all of that — without VIRTUE — could lead to arrogance and conceit.

Do something good … for at least one other person … each and every day. And don’t do it for the praise and recognition you might get. No one even has to know what you’re doing. Just do something good for the sake of building your own virtue and character.

Action:  Which of the four self-esteem pillars needs the most work in your life? Write down ten things you will do to strengthen that pillar.