Even if it meant going back to college at 30 with two kids in tow, Anita Papas realised one of her dreams, and she is now passionately involved in developing ways to help people accomplish theirs. In fact, once you get to know more of what’s behind the fair skin, contrasting dark eyes and ready smile, you can’t help automatically relating her infectious drive with the premise of her self-help book. In “Go For It”, the Lebanese-Armenian clinical psychologist writes about pursuing your goals and living the life you long for, no matter where you are in life or how many barriers you have to barge through. With Papas sitting next to me on a welcoming sofa, rather than behind her desk, (a warming gesture she shares with her clients) she explains that life is not short and a good investment in yourself is where it all begins.
Your book “Go for it!” is basically encouraging people to follow their dreams, passions and goals. Is there a way to help people discover those if they haven’t already?
Yes, of course. “Go For It!” not only talks about following your dreams, it actually makes you realise where to find them. I believe every individual has to have aspirations to be able to live. I always say that when we don’t have any more dreams, we don’t have a life, because to dream, to hope, to have something is a purpose, a target, an aim, a destination. It’s something you put your mind to. So that’s what it’s all about. And I realise it’s the most miserable people who don’t have that. So this is what I encourage my clients to do, to find a purpose, to find a meaning, and if we dig deep we always find it.
You mention that you need strength, courage and determination to make your dreams come true. Can you tell us the most important steps to achieve those?
When we have an idea or dream, the first thing most of us do is feel afraid of failure and this is what stops us from achieving our goals most of the time. I always say the first step is the most important. Just take it and start, don’t worry about it. The next thing is never give up. When you’re doing these things, taking the first step and not taking no for an answer, then there’s no way you won’t get there. If it’s not today, it will be tomorrow or in a year or two.
Success does take time, this is what people need to understand. It doesn’t happen overnight. Let’s not be fooled by certain images in the media, or by some celebrities. Maintaining your success is a lifetime purpose, it’s an on-going process, and there are no shortcuts or miracle recipes. So this is why I mention determination and it’s not reaching the goal, it’s preserving it as well. Once you get to a certain point and the initial excitement wears off, you may start feeling comfortable and start going backwards again, so you have to renew yourself, to keep moving forward.
According to the book, taking control of your own life is an essential part of pursuing what you want.
Actually taking control is the thing to do in any which way, whether it’s our dreams or our relationships. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, most of the people who end up in my clinic are those who have lost control over their lives and they’re not happy. They know something is wrong but somehow they cannot pinpoint what it is. They realise they have lost control over their lives, they’re working in jobs they’re not happy in, they are in relationships that aren’t fulfilling them. I tell them, ‘Why are you doing that? Take control, take decisions, make a difference.’ You should have the attitude that you want to be in control, that this, this and this are going to happen this year. Don’t just let the days decide for you, you decide. This is what I mean by taking control of your life, and a lot of people miss this because they reach a certain age and surrender to life. I say it’s never too late, you can always gain back your control; you can always do something to make you feel you’re in the driving seat.
But this is quite difficult in the Arab world where families are so interlocked in each other’s lives. What are the best ways for Arab women to deal with parental or spousal pressure?
This is a very important topic because I see these kinds of struggles daily with youngsters and especially among women. Because there’s what we want as individuals and then there’s society and parental expectations, so this is where there’s a big battle going on. I say within acceptable limits, because you cannot revolt or go against your cultural norms and values, you shouldn’t let anyone stop you from pursuing your talents. A lot of women are very gifted but because of spousal pressures they didn’t pursue their passion, and I say this is a wasted talent. This is where I say ‘no’. If a person is not letting you grow then they don’t love you because if they loved you they would want you to reach your full potential.
So in acceptable ways, and keep in mind this changes according to different societies, you need to pursue your dreams. And it’s for you and society, because by sharing your dreams, you’re making a change in your environment as well. If you draw a beautiful painting, if you play moving music or if you’re good at designing clothes, you’re not just satisfying yourself, you’re doing something for society as well. What’s wrong with that? Anyway, things are changing for women.
Just like Darwin, you mention being responsive to change is a very important trait in life. However, it gets more and more difficult to adapt as we get older. Any tips?
I would say never be afraid of change because you never know unless you try, and when you take a shot you will find the difference. We have a tendency to cling to what we know, but the familiar will keep you in the familiar. If you never travel to another country, you won’t know what is out there. A change is uncomfortable, we don’t like to leave our comfort zone, but then again we won’t achieve much if we don’t do it. So I say go for it, don’t be afraid of adjustment. Change your mind about change (laughs). It’s really important.
Our self-defence system always says don’t go to the unknown, it can be dangerous. But why should we always expect something bad? Let’s anticipate something good; maybe with a change we will gain something better. So it’s about expectations because it’s all in the way we perceive things, it’s not the actuality.
Fear is a mind killer isn’t it?
Of course, fear freezes us, it handicaps us and stops us from doing so many things because we are scared of being judged, we are afraid to fail, we are afraid to be seen as odd. We are even frightened of ourselves, you know when your ego says I tried this and I failed. So what? Who is going to judge you? Throughout history you see well-known people who have failed thousands of times and they never gave up, this is what made them achieve their goals.
What do you say to those waiting for a stroke of luck or just relying on fate?
Oh, I say just pull your sleeves up and go to work because in real life you need to make real efforts. You can be lucky a few times but you cannot be lucky for a lifetime. Only hard work and exertion pay off in the end, so I call that procrastinating or wasting time, it is not good, it really isn’t.
You dedicated the book to your two children. What advice do you give to other mothers?
I think the most important thing for parents is to let their children believe in themselves. Plus don’t focus on their negatives, concentrate on their positives because every child has strengths and weaknesses. If we keep mentioning flaws, children will not realise they have good qualities as well. Even if a child just has one forte, take it from there and make it happen because nobody is perfect. So make them believe in themselves and discover their passions, because life without passion is as if you’re taking a back seat and watching it go by, you’re not living it.
Do you have any family rituals you want to share with us that enhance your home life?
Actually, on a daily basis we get together and discuss what happened during the day. My husband and I start talking to encourage our children to open up, because it’s very difficult to reach out to them as teenagers. When we, as adults, speak out first, it opens doors for them to discuss their own experiences. We also take family trips and they are sacred. We enjoy time together when we are away and don’t have to worry about work, clients and pressures. So it’s pure family time and we have a lot of fun, a real lot of fun!
You’ve already written other books like “The Positive You!” and “The Positive Us!” Do you enjoy the writing process?
Oh yes, it’s really amazing because I live it. The kinds of books I write have to do with every day life so I’m living it every moment. I write very haphazardly, when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I have a thought, when I’m driving or in between clients. So when I put these ideas together, I end up with a book. For the latest book, I found the title first, then put the information together, that’s how it came about.