“I had manifested the career of my dreams but not the life of my dreams” admitted Sheri Salata, writer, producer, co-founder of The Pillar Life, and co-host of the podcast “The Sheri + Nancy Show”.
After 20 years working at The Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Studios, and the OWN network, Salata shared this courageously for the first time at age 56, encouraging each of us that it’s never too late to begin to traverse your own path and take stock in whether or not our choices are moving us towards the life we truly want.
She recently published the page-turning memoir The Beautiful No: And Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation.
We sat down to talk about how one goes from Oprah Show producer to producing her own life transformation, and break down what you can learn from her experience, too!
Change the story, change your life
“We all have some level of awareness that there’s a voice going off in our heads that is literally narrating what’s going on around us and also judging us mercilessly. What I began to see was that the stories I was telling myself weren’t very helpful. They were harsh, critical, and instantly judgmental,” explains Salata.
“And then it became very clear that the stories we tell ourselves are creating outcomes, so continuing to focus on those and making the writing of those stories a purposeful, intentional exercise really begins to change everything.”
Create the life of your dreams (without any excuses holding you back)
“I manifested the career of my dreams and realized that I had gone unconscious and was not living the life of my dreams. I wanted to be creative, innovative, and successful, but also healthy, in alignment, and connected to something greater than myself. I wanted great relationships, and love, and romance in my life. If I say I want these things, there is no reason why I can’t be living the life of my dreams, all the way. And if not now, when? When are you going to do it? When are you going to make that a priority? When are you going to do all the little practices and shifts that you’re gonna have to do to make that happen?,” urges Salata.
“And I thought, ‘Maybe I’m gonna be 90-something one day and I’m gonna look back at this point in my life right now. I might say: Oh, what a shame. She got super-conscious and clear about what the life of her dreams was, but she just wasn’t willing to make those tweaks to make it happen to co-create it’. Or, I could look back at that moment in time and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that was so great. You made that deep, deep connection with yourself, you did the tweaking. You were willing to focus, you were willing to really slow down and understand what the life of your dreams was. And then, of course, it began to come together. That was a really, really good choice.”
Flip the script because it’s never too late
“Here’s the truth about the middle of life: you have a whole second half for all kinds of possibilities. The truth is, by the time you get to 50, you’ve lived some life, you’ve been betrayed, and hurt, and disappointed, and heartbroken. And you’ve got some baggage. And it can take a moment of willingness to unpack that stuff and let it go, and begin to believe again about possibilities for your life.”
She continues, “Sometimes, that can be more difficult for some of us in the middle of life, because there’s a part of us that doesn’t necessarily believe it can happen.”
And Salata is living proof that it can.
Focus on the little things
“It’s the little things that create our lives. It’s the glass of water, the five minutes of breathing, the 20-minute meditation, the walk around the block…those are the things that begin to stir us up and make us believe that: ‘Wow, if I can do this, what else can I do? If I can become this, what else can I become? Maybe it is possible.’
And, when we make ourselves feel good, when we do those things that feel good, all of a sudden, it’s so much easier to choose happiness.”
Combat the need to be busy
“Some of us use busyness to avoid some of the deeper spiritual questions about our lives. We use it to avoid the fact that we have a lot of fear about our children or our partners, or the world in general. And, we feel that if we sat and slowed down, we would have to look at all of that. And we could possibly implode.
Some of us use busyness almost as an addiction. It can give you a sense of importance and value. And of course, at the end of the day, none of those external things provide real value, and we’re important whether we’re busy or not.”
Be more than someone’s something
“I was very much infected with the thinking that my value, significance, and worthiness were absolutely tied to achievement and accomplishment. That is why that was such an important part of my life, and that I alone was not enough. With the opportunity to sit back from that and take a much, much grander view of my own life and existence, that’s when I realized: ‘Oh my gosh, these roles in our lives (and we all have them as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, employees or entrepreneurs) are just a little piece. If life is a play, it’s just a piece of it. Then, what I saw so clearly was that being someone else’s something does not a full life make. Even for me to be Executive Producer or President, big-sounding and really great things, it’s still not a full life being someone else’s something.”
Define success for yourself
“Now I define success as happiness. That’s one of the things I learned, especially when I was working on this book and I was trying to articulate what I was feeling. That was, I could see in my early years, that I had made misery my compass. I’d just keep slugging away until I was so miserable, I had to make a change. I had to leave. This can’t be right because I can’t get out of bed. And at the end of the day, what do we want from our careers, anyway?”, asks Salata.
“Maybe we want it to be exciting, glamorous, lucrative, have great benefits… and I certainly was no exception. When you take that grand expansive view, what you see is what you really want. You want all those things because the end game is happiness. So, I want to put myself in the position where it is super-easy for me to choose happiness every hour of every day as best I can.”
Salata continues, “I feel satisfied that the decisions I make now are about making radical self-care my top priority, and knowing that when I do that, goodness flows out all around me.”
Imagine your tombstone
“I wish I could remember which great teacher taught me this one, but there’s an exercise that many masters use and it’s called ‘The Graveyard Exercise’. You walk through a graveyard, find your spot, and you see your tombstone… all through the process of visualization with your eyes closed. And then you read the tombstone and imagine that it’s yours and see the headline. Whatever that headline is, is the story of your life.
And so, in my reckoning process about looking at what I’d created so far, all the way up to 56, it said: ‘Sheri Salata: she had a great job for a long time’. That was incredibly inspiring to me because I did have a great job for a long time, and I would like to think of that as the foundation for the most glorious days yet to come, and I certainly don’t want my tombstone headline to be about work. I want it to say, ‘Sheri Salata: She created the most amazing life she could imagine.’”
Stop out-negative-ing each other
“With one of my best friends of 30 years, Nancy Hala, with whom I’m in business, we were able to look back at how we had spent our time for years. And, how we bonded through negativity, one upping each other on whose life was worse. Who had the worst week, who feels the most betrayed, who has the most rotten people around her. And what became very clear in actually manifesting the lives of our dreams is that our relationship as great girlfriends was going to have to shift. We give ourselves thirty seconds to let off some steam and then plow right into what we now call ‘intentional friendship’, which is about upliftment. It’s about glass half-full, reminding each other what really matters, what our dreams really are, and how many things have manifested.”
Stop trying to find balance and try this instead
“I tried to fit myself within the compartment of work-life balance and failed repeatedly. In fact, I failed so many times that I had so much shame around it. I would almost hold my breath when I would go and speak at an event because I knew that question was going to come up,” admits Salata.
“I don’t believe in work-life balance and there’s something about those words that constructs a cultural notion that is very damaging and dangerous to many of us: Are we good enough? Are we doing enough? And what became clear to me is that a magnificent, expansive, elevated life is not a mathematical equation. It’s a dance of flow, and intention, and alignment.
The real work is to be so grounded in ourselves, and so in touch with our own intuition and inner voice, that we can flow our attention through our lives in a way that makes the most sense. And, thus, creates the most joy. And then we can make adjustments and tweak it.”
All your time is free time
“I would always get asked, ‘How do you spend your free time?’And it occurred to me that all my time is free time.
Even when you’re at a job (you don’t think you can quit because you need the money and you won’t be able to pay your rent) it’s still your free time. You’re not being held captive, against your will, so, you really still get to make those decisions. You’re choosing, so choose differently. Manifest something different for yourself. Those were very freeing concepts and they freed me from a lot of judgment, a lot of harshness with myself.”
Take the compliment
“Worthiness is one of the nearly universal human conditions that we most need to transcend and heal in order to have everything we want. It’s the thing that’s always standing in our way. So one of the things that I noticed for my own self was not being able to take a compliment. What I’ve realized is, it really is about receptivity.
Being willing to receive love is one of those last vestiges of the unworthiness issue. I put my life on pages (in this book) and people are responding with a compliment, which is really love. I’m getting better at it, because I really have been working on it, but it’s amazing how uplifting it can be to let people love you.”
It doesn’t matter what other people think
“As the years advance and you get to the middle of your life, you kind of get a little sick of yourself for caring what other people think about what you do, what you wear, what you say. You almost ran out of gas on that and can’t summon enough care to care about it.
Rarely do people carve out gigantic chunks of their time to have a big dialogue about you.
And at a certain point, you are going to have to be the one who decides you’re enough.”
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This article was originally published on Forbes.