Visualizing Success

In undergrad when I was supposed to be building little stereochemical models using plastic balls and sticks, I read a lot of self-development books instead. Many of them spoke to the power of visualization and its simple three steps:

1) Visualize one’s goals with as much details as possible as if they have already been achieved. Note how it feels, what it looks like and heck, even how it smells if you can swing it.

2) Write down those details then put the paper away and forget about it.

3) Accidentally happen upon that piece of paper some time later and recognize with shock that you managed to realize your heart’s desires without even “trying”.

The secret lies with the subconscious: once you defined what success is in the most primordial way (that is, what it feels like to each of your senses), the subconscious then knows what to work towards and guides your subsequent decisions in a way conducive to the realization of those sensations.

As I’m cleaning out my “treasure trunk” (a Hudson’s Bay Company limited edition metal popcorn tin) in preparation for my upcoming move, I came upon such a list I wrote on Feb 3, 2007, titled “No limitations 5 year goal”.

I guess it was one of my earlier attempts at visualization because most of the list read like a Christmas wish list (“Chanel quilted purse, Burberry trench and Louboutin red-soled shoes”) with no details of the sensations I expect to experience when those “goals” are realized. Consequently, I’m still sadly lacking those wardrobe essentials.

A slightly better one was “Working well-paid Parisian science plant-related research job” (although the grammar was admittedly shitty). Nevertheless, this attempt at visualization was better because I did end up doing research on genetically-modified tobacco plants that summer, albeit in Germany and only for a living stipend. I think I could’ve visualized with more feeling.

However, there was one winner in this list that made my skin tingle and my jaw drop. It was also the longest and the most emotionally-involved visualization: “Live in traditional but in great condition old Parisian apartment with Eiffel Tower view, on same side of the river, in cluster with other such apartments”. Bam! Five years later in 2012, I spent my February (as well as January, March and April) in precisely such a flat on rive gauche. During the five years in between the time I wrote down that goal on lined, three-ring binder paper to when I looked out my window at the Eiffel, life took me down paths I wasn’t even capable of fathoming back in 2007. Yet in spite of it all, the power of visualization still got me to that Parisian rooftop apartment.

So basically what I’m getting to is this, it’s time to get back to dreaming.

Tall Tales, Chapter 2 – A Tall Eyesore

This is Chapter 2 of a three-chapter series called “Tall Tales“. Read Chapter 1 – Tall Men: A Scarce Resource.

I was a dancer with the Ottawa Chinese Arts Troupe between 2007 and 2010. We rehearsed weekly and performed traditional Chinese dances at cultural and diplomatic events in Ottawa. Highlights include the Canadian Tulip Festival, the Lumière Festival and celebration of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Parliament Hill.

I started as a backup dancer who didn’t even have a space on the barre to stretch. Four years later, I became a principal dancer. I attended every rehearsal even during the worst of the Canadian winter storms, sometimes the trainer and I were the only ones to show up at the studio.

The Troupe had a signature dance that we worked on ever since I joined. It was called Taoyao, a very nuanced imperial dance to entertain the emperor. In ancient China, beautiful young women from across the country were regularly recruited into the Imperial City. They all hoped to capture the emperor’s eye and become a favorite concubine because the alternative was to age alone in the isolation of the Imperial City. This is because even if the emperor never gets around to “showing his preference”, these hundreds of women were prohibited from having loves and lives of their own as they were the emperor’s property. Therefore, performing imperial dances were these women’s sole exposure to capture the emperor’s eye  and consequently, a chance at a semi-normal life. It really was dance or die.

In imperial dances, each gesture and glance is nuanced and purposeful. They were performed to entice and evoke while remaining juuust on this side of decency (ahem, I mean elegance). One dance could determine how the rest of these women’s lives would unfold. To this day, I can still hear that ancient rhythm swirling in my head. Just like the first time, my heart still flutters with every lyrical note. Chinese imperial dance is the ultimate seduction.

2009 Chinese New Year performance at the Centrepointe Theatre, Nepean, Ontario

Weeks before we premiered this signature performance, the choreographer/troupe leader abruptly wanted to replace me with a shorter girl, even though she missed months of rehearsal. The reason? Her height was more “harmonious” with the rest of the troupe, while I stood out like a “tall eyesore”. After passionate protests by the rest of the troupe, the choreographer retracted her proposal and I got to perform the dance as I had dreamed for the past four years.

As soon as the curtain closed and while the applause continued to thunder, I told the troupe leader that I was quitting. I was disenchanted that my devotion to the troupe could be so easily and heartlessly erased due to something out of my control. I realized that we should position ourselves in situations where our uniqueness is seen as an advantage, not an impairment. This is the best way to leverage ourselves for success. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you”.

If I ever perform traditional Chinese dance again, I’m going solo!

This is was the original Taoyao dance, as performed at the Chinese National Dance Competition.