At some point in our lives, we are all tested. We find ourselves at a crossroad where we must face a challenge, or series of challenges that force us to stand back and reassess the landscape of our reality. Such a crossroad in life could be prompted by a breakup, the death of a loved one, the onset of a disease, the loss of a job—any one of so many different situations where we spiral downward and ultimately hit rock bottom. Many of us shut down and allow our health, appearance, and our essential life force to gradually fizzle, until we literally become more walking dead, than vibrant life.
I am living proof. At one point, I was a complete zombie.
At age 35, I really thought I had it all: I was the hustling, respected and successful president of Telemundo, an early pioneer in my field as a Latina professional. I had a rich and famous boyfriend.
After I found out I was pregnant, I realized that my perfect boyfriend and I had “irreconcilable differences,” and that we could never stay together. It was a huge slap in the face for someone like me, who at the time, believed there was nothing I could not solve or fix or will into perfection. I love my son, but single mamihood was certainly not the life I had envisioned for myself. It wasn’t until a few years later that I became enveloped by an overwhelming sense of shame, sadness, and ultimately a darkness that only those who have suffered from depression can truly understand.
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Despair hit me hard.
People often ask me how I was able to step out of this emotional shadow and away from the ‘victim’ mentality I had squarely set into my mind. The simple answer is that one day I decided to stop everything, put myself first, and check into a health spa. I needed the kind of life regroup one can only find after a solid week of meditation and massage. While I was there, away from the noise and clutter of everyday life, I was hit with the realization that I hadn’t actually taken care of myself in what seemed like forever, and that I needed to finally give back to that vibrant person I knew always existed within me, but of whom I had lost sight. I had to value an essence in myself, and pick up the pieces of my life that lay shattered around me. I felt revamped when I returned home. I decided to be proactive about caring for myself—which in my case, given the rhythm of my life at the time, meant intentional non-action. Or, taking time off for me! It was an epiphany.
TRANSFORMATION & MAINTENANCE
While I was away, my son had been given a book, The Complete Works of Hans Christian Anderson. I decided to sit and read it with him one night, and while I recited the fable, The Ugly Duckling, out loud, I had an idea. “The ugly duckling was always a swan—and didn’t know it.” As I uttered the words, it suddenly hit me that many women must feel exactly like I did—trapped inside their own potential, but yearning to achieve the natural joy and confidence that exists deep within the folds of their psyche.
Inspired by this experience, I created the hit Fox reality television series, The Swan, which put me directly in touch with thousands of women who, like me, had hit a wall. In The Swan, I propelled these women into action through physical transformation. Granted, the show garnered a lot of criticism, as some felt that the show encouraged women to believe they had to change every bit of themselves (externally as well as internally) in order to find true happiness. Unfortunately, a prime-time TV show makes it impossible to see all that transpires when the cameras aren’t filming: the transformative hours of therapy, the life coaching, and all of the other options and new pathways that these women were given to literally makeover their life attitudes. I firmly believe and can attest to the fact that a woman’s most glorious ‘natural state’ arises out of total self-confidence.
At one point, and at the last minute, the network decided to change the show from a more holistic therapy based, internal transformation documentary, to an extreme plastic surgery and ratings-driven vehicle—all of it against my better instincts. I got flack for what the show ultimately became, but I knew that at the core of my intention and motivation was the power of change. And this struck a chord. The Swan seems mild in comparison to the television shows that now permeate primetime TV. In a way, the show was the first of its kind to literally transform its subjects into the people of their dreams.
The Swan changed so many women, but one lesson I took away from the show is that maintenance is the key to life. As mothers, we often start to put our mates first, and then our children become the center of our universe. We slowly lose ourselves, and in many cases, also our self-esteem. Then we stop maintaining, physically. How we look can be a direct reflection of how we feel inside. We must be vigilant about this.
And yet, it doesn’t stop with just physical maintenance. Just as critically is emotional maintenance. Sometimes we feel guilty when we spend time on ourselves over our families, and yet what good are we to them if we are not feeling our absolute best? More importantly, what are we teaching our children when we don’t maintain our physical and mental well being? What will their worth become when we are not showing them the best and most nurtured face of our own self-esteem?
GROWTH IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY
Another lesson I learned from The Swan is that growth is a responsibility; we must never stop blossoming intellectually, physically, or emotionally. Advocating our own personal growth is a legacy that we must leave to our children. Personally, this came in the guise of going back to school. I took a break from television and entertainment, and I am now working on a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. The bottom line is that I took my mind out of its comfort zone, and consciously worked on maintaining and growing through school and learning. Instead of complaining that I’m getting older and not feeling good about myself, I am proud to have started the difficult task of going back to school at an older age, and even prouder for seeing it through.
I am “swanning” my mind. No plastic surgery could ever buy this type of confidence. My now 11-year-old son sees his mami studying, taking difficult exams, relishing in the victory of a hard won ‘A’ on a paper. He and I are growing together everyday, and this invaluable and ongoing process of intentional evolution is the most precious gift I could ever give to us both.