Don’t Stop Believing

It’s becoming a Saturday tradition around here for me to share my self-improvement articles and essays. It’s the slowest day of the week, and I realize not everyone feels they need improving.

For example, some people have been Internet trolls since the earliest days of the web and still haven’t snapped out of it. Let us discourage them, but with compassion, not anger. They are the angry ones. What people like that don’t understand, or are incapable of implementing, is that their actions formulate their structure of reality. The Internet becomes a place of deception because they chose to make it that way. The Internet, and all the world, is simply mirroring back everything that’s inside of them.

The latest entry to our new Level Up category is a back-page essay that just came out in a new magazine called Veni; it was a pretty cool project, as I actually edited the whole magazine. It’s the relaunch of an existing property, published by a guy I worked for a dozen years ago. It’s a fashion and celebrity lifestyle magazine for women, with the fresh angle of being about the process of making it in Hollywood. So more on the talent side than the celebrity gossip side. I interviewed a number of ingenues, and got to edit exclusive interviews with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Nicole Kidman, which was pretty cool. Somewhat less cool — though it required me to keep mine — was being a man editing a Hollywood magazine for women while the Harvey Weinstein/#MeToo drama was unfolding. I hope I struck the right tone and balance.

Here’s Cate Blanchett — which we all know, or should know, from “The Talented Mr. Ripley” — checking it out:She’s not reading the back page, but perhaps she got to it eventually. For the final word, I wrote a piece on the theme that in life attitude determines everything. Which has a lot to do with what you believe about yourself. Which in turn largely fuels the “vibe” you give off to others, which then determines what life appears to be giving you. Basically all the stuff I’ve been reading and thinking about the past year.

Below is the text. Peace be with you, brothers. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

Start Believin’:
To make it and start living the dream, start by asking yourself what you believe
By Christian Chensvold
Veni Magazine, Spring-Summer 2018

How can two people in the same place at the same time doing the same thing have completely opposite experiences? And what about not just two people, but a hundred? It’s quite simple, and is a crucial life lesson I learned on a film set years ago, and have never forgotten. 

I was newly arrived in LA, dreaming of using my one connection — a buddy budding as a writer/director — to try and sell the development rights to a sci-fi comedy story I’d published. Instead I got my lucky break for something else entirely, and was hired as a dance choreographer for an indie film called “Swing” starring Jacqueline Bissett. There were nearly a hundred extras brought in from the local dance community, and it was clear after a couple of long days that half of them were miserable and half were having the time of their life. What could explain this disparity? Simple: attitude. The big shots and prima donnas thought the movie should revolve around them, complete with solo routines, opening credits, and a sizable slice of the tiny budget. Meanwhile the others were happy just to be there, even taking vacation time from work to experience being on a film set and doing the thing they love in front of the camera. 

The ancient Persian philosopher Rumi uttered a nugget worth remembering: “I became clever and decided to change to change the world. Then I became wise and decided to change myself.” The teachings of the world’s great mystics and sages is increasingly being substantiated by scientific research into the brain: specifically, that the inner reality of our thoughts, feelings and attitudes largely determines our experience of the outer world. Go into a situation with a bad attitude and you’re bound to experience negative emotions such as anger, resentment and bitterness. But go in with a mind open to exploration and discovery and an entirely different set of brain chemistry is activated.

That’s why it’s so important to believe in yourself: it will actually determine how your life unfolds. If you come to Hollywood full of self-doubt about your talent and convinced the industry is an impenetrable fortress (think Jon Favreau’s character, to keep things swingin’, in “Swingers”), it will become embodied in your posture and facial expression, and people will come to doubt your talent just as much as you do. On the other hand, if you radiate confidence in your craft and know it’s just a matter of time before it’s recognized, then the drawbridge is likely to be lowered with an invitation to come inside. 

You’ve probably heard about the so-called “law of attraction,” that if you just visualize the things you want — Academy Award, star on the Walk Of Fame, island in the Bahamas — the “universe” (or at least Universal Studios) will grant your wish. But I don’t think that’s quite the right way of thinking about it. You’re not wishing for the outside world — which is beyond your control — to magically drop things in your lap. Instead, your visualization should be focused on the transformation of your inner world, of believing that you have all the skills you need to do great work, and can meet any challenge set before you. It’s not easy being broke and going from one audition to the next without a callback, waiting for your first break. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and whether you believe you can make it or believe you can’t, you’ll eventually find our you’re right. 

If you study how to transform your inner world, the fruit of your labors will be the awe-inspiring experience of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, in which the world becomes like a dream in which everything is symbolic and seems to happen for a reason. 

As the idea for this essay took shape in my mind, I was on my way to an event in Manhattan where everyone would know me, and had been feeling woozy all day. A shrill, cranky voice inside said I wasn’t up for this and should turn back home and crawl into bed. But then another voice, a deep, reassuring baritone originating in the center of my chest, said I’d manage just fine if only I’d believe — you know, like in the essay I was planning to write. 

I looked up and saw a cafe, and figured I’d pop in for a cup of tea to see me through, and the song playing was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

So take a positive attitude, believe in yourself, transform your inner world to change the outer, and soon you’ll be living a waking dream, with the starring role. 


21 Comments on "Don’t Stop Believing"

  1. Just Sayin' | June 9, 2018 at 1:29 pm |

    Great message! Working towards a more meaningful life should always be commended. This could easily be tied into Ivy style – the carefree, slightly rumpled attitude of the clothes demonstrating a comfort with one’s inner self and a lack of concern with judging, or the judgement of, others.

  2. @ Just Sayin’

    Lol. Certainly rumpled if they were worn by a deadman, Beebs.

  3. Mitchell S. | June 9, 2018 at 1:38 pm |

    @Christian: Thanks for the wise, inspiring advice. Lately I’ve been reading about Buddhism and the notions of suffering and karma.

    Scientific studies have shown that compassion can alleviate the traumatic effects of malicious people. When people treat me unfairly I realize it’s because they are miserable, suffering people.

    I don’t try to get even with nasty people because ultimately the only control we have in our lives is over ourselves. I just try to sit back, relax and wait for karma to unfold. Christianity also shares this idea of radical pacifism: it’s called “ turning the other cheek.”

  4. And also with you.

  5. @Mitchell

    You’re most welcome. And you’re on the right track with how to deal with malicious people. I followed up Epictetus with the meditations of Marcus Aurelius (third time through), and it’s all throughout the Stoics as well.

    As for petty everyday annoyances, now I simply chalk it up to kali yuga and the annoyance drops by 90%.

  6. “…experience of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, in which the world becomes like a dream in which everything is symbolic and seems to happen for a reason.”

    The mystics of old prioritized this state of mind/being/spirit. Patterns and connections abound. Recognizing them is a sort of waking up. A million mysteries are solved.

    We’ll never know what happened before one decillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Math fails us (sorry, quants). It’s the mystery that atheists stubbornly refuse to even acknowledge. But that creative energy–that life force–is the key to it all.

    Keep searching, CC. And keep writing.

  7. What existed before the Big Bang has melted my brain for years. How could something come from nothing? Even if there was “nothing,” it was still a something from which everything could come forth.

    What do you think?

    Last night at midnight I lay in my local park with a surprisingly good view of stars and Venus for NYC. Now I’m off to the astronomy section at the Natural History Museum, with some meditation and sun worship in Central Park.

  8. Canadian Trad | June 10, 2018 at 7:53 am |

    Great message, Christian.

    @S.E. As an atheist, I readily admit that I have no clue as to what happened before and during that singularity. I don’t find any of the explanations convincing. As I age, I keep realizing that compassion, humility, and humour are the responses to life that seem to be most skillful (to borrow a term from our Buddhist friends).

  9. Old School Tie | June 10, 2018 at 12:14 pm |

    Regarding making it as a woman in Hollywood, #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein, does anyone else find the title Veni slightly off? You know, thinking back to those Latin lessons…

  10. It is Latin indeed.

    The property acquired had the bizarre name of VVV. The new owner toyed with having it stand for Veni Vidi Vici, as in coming to conquer Hollywood. In the end they went with just Veni.

  11. Just Sayin' | June 10, 2018 at 2:15 pm |

    Vici might have been more apt.

  12. Have you read Michael Pollan’s new book, ‘How to Change Your Mind’?
    I’m about halfway through and enjoying it – your post about the lifestyle changes you’ve made and this one, made me think you may enjoy it quite a bit too. A lot of discussion regarding the time period of the fall of ivy as well. I’ve got extra copies and would happily mail you a copy.

  13. Thanks for the offer, Niles. Please email me.

  14. Old School | June 11, 2018 at 1:06 am |

    Anything that works.

  15. Charlottesville | June 11, 2018 at 11:33 am |

    Nice piece, Christian. Attitude is indeed central to happiness but, as you point out, is not a sort of magic formula that grants our wishes.

    A similar theme can be found in Christianity. St. Paul wrote “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” It even crops up in an exchange between Bertie and Jeeves, although Bertie seems less appreciative of the philosophy:

    “I wonder if I might draw your attention to an observation of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius?” [Jeeves] said. “‘Does anything befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web.’”
    I breathed a bit stertorously. “He said that, did he?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Well, you can tell him from me he’s an ass.”

    – P.G. Wodehouse The Mating Season

  16. Hunter Jordan | June 11, 2018 at 12:55 pm |

    Bertie had it right.

  17. Henry Contestwinner | June 11, 2018 at 2:15 pm |

    “What existed before the Big Bang has melted my brain for years. How could something come from nothing? Even if there was “nothing,” it was still a something from which everything could come forth.”

    The ability to cause something to appear from nothing: physically impossible, utterly unaccountable for—yet it happened. This is what we often call a miracle.

    Where do we find the ability to make miracles?

    The answer has been there all along. The only issue is whether or not we are willing to accept that answer.

  18. Great article, CC. It definitely struck a chord with me. I was putting on my sourpuss face today, and am now after reading your article, I am trying to engage my sense of confidence and worth.

    I also have Michael Pollan’s book on my summer to-read list. ….let’s share notes after we’ve finished reading it.

  19. Hang in there, brother, and text me any time.

  20. @Christian,

    I am curious if or how your voyage toward self improvement has affected your golf game.


  21. It seems to be working. I interviewed the “Zen Golf” author for that WTF story for Real Clear Life. Haven’t played much so far, but am feeling good about the swing, and much better about my tennis, jazz piano and weightlifting as well. I think once you start working on getting your life out of the dark forest and start seeing the light, you become more sensititive and focused to what’s going on in your games, how to identify the problems, and then how to fix.

    If you didn’t read the RCL WTF story, please do as you’ll enjoy the golf section.

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