06/06/2014 04:53 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2014

The Power of a Declaration

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This past year it feels as though I've been moving parts of my life around on a giant jigsaw puzzle -- like any puzzle, some of the pieces just seem to slip in together logically, while others are harder to place, especially when I attempt to force them into where they don't belong. Having already figured out most of the puzzle, I'm left with the last few challenging pieces, that when properly placed will bring the entire picture into perspective.

I've known for quite some time that even though I've been working as a teacher for over a quarter century, it really was not my passion. I'm feeling stagnant, and the little nagging spark in my soul has now become an all-consuming fire urging me to scale the walls of fear I've built around me. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, "To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow." It's now clear to me that the next chapter of my life is set to begin, as it's time for my soul to grow.

I recently watched great TEDtalk by Russel Redenbaugh about overcoming adversity in your life. For those of you unfamiliar with Redenbaugh, he lost his sight at the age of 16, and then went on to overcome severe poverty to graduate sixth in his class at the prestigious Wharton School. His journey has taken him to managing a $6 billion investment firm, sitting as commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and even more remarkable, becoming a Jujitsu world champion. During his TEDtalk, Redenbaugh professes that "adversity builds advantages," and by learning to tap into that strength often interpreted as an insurmountable obstacle, we can shatter the boundaries that society puts up around us. Even more importantly, we can begin to tear down those self-sabotaging inferiority boundaries we erect ourselves.

Crucial to Redenbaugh's philosophy is what he refers to as the "power of declarations." When I look back upon this past year, every time I've successfully moved another piece of my jigsaw puzzle into place, it has always come on the heels of a personal declaration. In the words of Redenbaugh, "Declarations precede leaps." My three core declarations this past year have been: No longer be afraid. No longer be ashamed, and place passion and mission first.

If declarations are so life altering, why haven't more of us taken advantage of their power? I believe it comes down to the simple fact that most of us set our sights too low -- and this is clearly evident in the vocabulary we choose. How many times in your life have you set yourself a "goal"? The dictionary defines a "goal" as an "objective" or "desired aim." In other words, it's the destination of a journey. What we fail to realize is that it's a destination and not a "path" to that desire. Is it any wonder many of us get lost along the way to that goal. Another term that gets a lot of air time is the word "resolution." When we face the clean slate of a new year ahead of us, it's so tempting to make a list of "resolutions," but what is actually taking place when we make these? The dictionary defines "resolution" as "a firm decision to do or not to do something." It's very personal and quite often never spoken aloud. By their very nature, resolutions lack the failsafe aspect of accountability because no one else is there to monitor our adherence and transgressions. Compare these two words to a "declaration," which the dictionary describes as "an explicit announcement of the beginning of a state or condition, a proclamation." The author Kelly Corrigan expresses this beautifully by saying, "You have to speak your dream out loud." Our words hold a power, and by giving our voice to them, we can initiate change in our lives -- where we often fall short is by limiting the scope of our declarations.

I sat down with a pen and paper a few days ago and came up with five categories of declarations and drafted one personal declaration for each. By sharing these with you here, I am adding a "voice" to my declarations and putting faith in their ability to precede the next leap in my life.

One Holistic Declaration
Vulnerability is not weakness; in fact, it's strength without wings.

One Physical or Health Declaration

I will escape from the vicious cycle of self hate that I initiate by gorging on food, typically sweets, only to beat myself up later with messages of self hate. Over the years I've used food to fill an emptiness inside of me as I've battled with the demons of depression and drug/alcohol addiction.

One Relationship or Family Declaration
As of today, I will now value "authenticity" in my relationships over blood ties and history. I am learning that "family" is not a construct of those with whom you are connected by birth. Family can construe anyone who nourishes my soul -- those who challenge and support me.

One Career Declaration
I will no longer settle for the comfort of being "competent" in my job. The next chapter of my working life with be a manifestation of that which "makes my heart sing."

The Final Declaration: One "story" about you that you will "put to bed" once and for all.

For most of my life, I've viewed myself as "weak" because I didn't have the courage to tell people that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, that I struggle with mental health issues, and that I have a history of drug and and alcohol addiction. The truth is that for the first time in my life, I am realizing that I am not weak -- in fact, I'm resilient.

I invite you to find a quiet place and sit down and draft your own list of life-altering declarations -- you never know where they may lead you. I'll close by sharing the words of the award winning author Neil Gaiman: "The only thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can."

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.