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Paint Your Own Portrait

by Mary Guilbert
Guilbert Associates

Mary has begun writing a series of Conversations. These are Conversations for the heart, for it is at the center of your being that change begins. Knowing how to frame desired change and how to implement these changes can literally change your life.

An important key to these Conversations is getting to know me in order to establish a relationship between us. This book will do that. Together we will build a bridge for you to cross into your heart's desire. If you have attended any of my workshops, you have met me. If this is our first meeting, it is important for you to get to know me for you will step into my life from time to time.

Do you remember the old song, "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to love you. . . "? Through this book, you will get to know yourself so you can love yourself in order to BE yourself.

As you get to know me through these Conversations, you will see that the ideas I share with you are largely based upon experiential knowledge. What this means is that these exercises and ideas can work IF YOU WORK AT THEM. I know they can work for you because they have worked in my life and in the lives of hundreds of others who have attended my workshops. But before we get into the heart of the matter, let me introduce myself.

My last name is pronounced "Gilbert," although it is spelled in the French manner "Guilbert." My husband, Lucien, is a French Canadian born in Montreal and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. We have been married thirty years. We married late � he was forty- eight and I was thirty-four.

I was born to the daughter of a prominent English family in Chicago. My father was a Russian Jew whose family lived in a poor Yiddish neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, worlds away from the affluent section my mother grew up in. I was not born in Chicago, however, but in a private home in Coral Gables, Florida. My mother was not married at the time of my birth. In 1933, pregnancy before marriage was not the thing to do. For this well-bred young woman from the "right" side of society, getting involved with a Jewish boy was not the thing to do either.

And so I was born in secret and kept in Florida until the marriage was arranged. I was then brought to Chicago by the family nurse and was adopted by the newly married couple. My brother followed shortly after my parents were properly married. The marriage was short lived, and my mother abandoned me into the care of the state. My father, young and poor, could not care for me, but managed to stay in my life by visiting when he could.

My maternal Grandfather was my constant companion and gave me my connection to my English heritage. We will talk about him at a later time. He wove the warp and woof of my moral fiber through my childhood.

Through a winding set of circumstances, I became a Roman Catholic at age sixteen. This caused friends of the English side of my family some consternation as it didn't "fit" with the tradition of the Anglican Church, which was my birth heritage. When I was twenty-two, I entered a Religious Order and became a Benedictine Nun.

In those days in order to "make the grade" as a Nun, one had to stay in good health until final vows were spoken "usually a period of six to eight years. I had ruptured a disc playing basketball, and my Religious career came to an end. After many trips to the hospital, I was declared "4-F" and left the Convent not long after. I had been a nun for nearly eight years.

Two years after I became a "civilian" I met Lucien. He was a shoe designer for the women's and children's shoe industry. I fell in love immediately. It took him four years to catch on. After we were engaged, he would often show my picture as a Nun to people, and would say, "This is my fianc�e." That's probably how those stories about Nuns get started. A Monk who was a brother person to me as a Nun married us in St. Louis.

At this writing I am sixty four years old. Lucien is seventy-nine and our daughter, Catherine, is twenty six. Our little family also has other members. We have a Siamese cat, Tinker, who is twenty-two. We also have Chelsie, our three-legged dog, who is sometimes irreverently called "Tripod," as well as two other cats, Baby and Holly. Over the years, we have had fish, snails, hamsters, mice and a lot of humans who have lived with us from time to time � some for a long time.

Now, I think being sixty-four years old is grand. It has really been the best age to be for me. Actually any age is the best age to be IF you are happy being you. Having grey hair, younger women tend to "daughter" me, and younger men display the chivalrous behavior they usually accord their mothers. In business, my age is not unusual but my female sex coupled with my age is. . . and so I receive a high degree of respectful fascination.

I began teaching school when I was twenty and still going to college. In those days, a degree was not essential to teach school. I loved teaching and taught classes from grades four through twelve over a period of thirteen years. My teaching experience has taken place in large city schools as well as in roadside classes in the hills of Oklahoma where children lived in caves helping their parents raise wild turkeys.

My business experiences are equally varied. I have worked in city planning, factory lines making paper cups, professional Girl Scouting, direct selling, marketing, public speaking, training for large corporations, and consulting. For five years, I even worked for Ohio Bell Telephone.

During the five-year tour of duty at the Phone Company, I used to visit business owners to discuss their telephone equipment needs. Invariably when they met me, they would say, "Oh, the last person they sent me was a sweet, young thing." My response was always, "Mr. Jones, Ohio Bell thought so much of your business they have sent me "the original" MA BELL." I soon became known as "MA BELL" to my customers, and I was quite successful.

�When I began my own business, people would ask me why I left the security of the Phone Company. I have found security comes from only two sources: my faith in God and my faith in myself. The Phone Company was neither.

�People who hear me speak are often amazed at all of the jobs I have had. they say, "You've got to be at least eighty-one years old to do all you have done." There are some folks who are actually depressed because they have worked at so many different kinds of jobs. However, this can be a valuable asset. Staying at the same job for thirty years is beneficial if you learn more each year. If not, a person can end up having one year's experience repeated thirty times. That's fine if you choose to put your mind on hold after the first year.

While longevity in a position is certainly to be respected, one who has had different challenges in a variety of jobs often can bring invaluable experience and wisdom to the present task at hand. As I look back over thirty years of working in healthcare, education, government, the Church, and business, I am often amazed about how all of my past experiences contribute to the knowledge needed to support the success of the present. If sharing my story with you stirred within you a desire to make changes in your life, then it is time to DO SOMETHING! And the good news is you have already begun. You are reading this.

Conversation One If you live in a town like mine, you may be familiar with an outerbelt. It's an express highway that circles the city. An outerbelt is a marvelous invention that highway planners have devised so travelers can avoid traffic delays by going around the city instead of through it. What the driving stranger to my city, Columbus, Ohio, may not know is how much longer it takes to drive around the city on the outerbelt.

My husband claims you can stop for lunch driving straight through town and get to the other side faster than driving the outerbelt. Wait! Don't stop reading. This is NOT a book about outerbelts, but a series of conversations to help you get off your personal outerbelt and onto the direct road to a meaningful future.

There is the point to this outerbelt analogy. Let's imagine you are ready to begin your summer vacation. It's only a few days away. You have been planning this particular vacation for many months. You wrote and reviewed information from eight different resorts. You talked to people who had been to each one. Each person assured you that you will have "the time of your life." (For some unexplained reason many people forget negatives when describing past vacations.) The day finally arrives. You have checked off each item on your "to-do" list:

  • Cancel the newspaper.
  • Get a plant sitter for the plants and a dog sitter for the dog. Ask Johnny to pick up the newspapers that will be delivered even though you canceled them.
  • Ask Johnny to cut the grass twice while you are gone (which he will do the morning and afternoon you are due home).

It's time to leave. The car is packed, and the kids are packed, in the car that is, and you take off. The day is sunny and clear. Your anticipation for this day has motivated you through the dreary winter. You are ready! You pull out of the driveway and onto the road that leads to the city's outerbelt. You don't get too far when you suddenly pull over to the side of the highway. You have a serious problem!

No, it's not the car. You had it tuned up and checked out so there would be no car trouble to ruin your vacation. You suddenly realize you did not CHOOSE any one of the eight vacation sites. You have no reservations and no idea of where you're going.

If you do go to any one of the eight vacation spots you researched, you probably will have to sleep in the car for two weeks. Another option you have is to drive around the outerbelt for two weeks.

At any rate, there you are on the shoulder of the outerbelt facing a two-week vacation with no place to go. "Absurd," you say. "That would be silly! Who would ever do something like that?" That's exactly my point.

Most people plan where to go for a vacation months ahead and they make sure they get their reservations in early. But what about your life and your future? Do you give it the same consideration you give your summer vacation?

With your vacation, you decide on a definite destination. At times, your children and spouse do the deciding and you do the agreeing. That's what often happens with our lives, too. Everyone but us decides on how we should live our lives and what our future will be. Do you travel around the outerbelt of opportunity with no destination . . . no reservations for the future?

The purpose of our time together is to take your life off the outerbelt of day-to-day existence, which goes around in circles often without excitement. Another purpose of this book is to give you control over your own direction. I will share with you ways to control your present circumstances by developing an assertive patterning without the need to be fearful or aggressive. And, most importantly, I will reveal methods that can enable you to unlock the doors to a future of your own choosing.

Your life and your future are imminently more important than a summer vacation. Yet we plan more carefully for two weeks in the summer than we do for our life's long journey. Many of us walk through each day "sentenced to life" in the present circumstances. We let each day's happenings determine our happiness or unhappiness. Excitement and enthusiasm become a thing of the past or reserved for a child's imagination. As a result, we walk around with a low-grade fever of depression, which saps our enthusiasm for life.

I've met people whose whole point in life seems to be to make it to Friday. Now we joke a great deal about living life from Friday to Friday, but under the humor is a deep-rooted cancer of desperation. These people have a mental framework that begrudges coming to work on Monday, rejuvenates when it is Wednesday, and rejoices when Friday comes. Friday night is often dedicated to drinking oneself into oblivion in order to wipe out the previous five days.

Saturday is then used for recuperating from Friday night. On Sunday night, the tension builds in anticipation of Monday, and the whole cycle begins over again. This may be sound somewhat extreme, but if this scenario is familiar to you, it is time to evaluate your life, decide your destination, and exit your outerbelt of no purpose.

John Gardner, who wrote a fine book entitled SELF- RENEWAL, said that most people stop growing spiritually by the time they finish high school, and that many people stop growing in the political sense by the time they reach twenty-five. How many political candidates have you thoroughly checked out before Election Day? John Gardner further says that by the time we reach thirty-five most of us have virtually stopped growing in all areas of our lives with the exception of girth.

There are two primary things that keep us from reaching our full potential � negative thinking and the failure to try! Our beliefs and our attitudes determine how we see our world and our circumstances. It's not always necessary to change our situation.

In fact, it is sometimes impossible. But by changing our beliefs and our attitudes, we can become drastically different people. In order to effect change and find the happiness we seek, we need a method to shed ourselves of the uneasy, vague sense of uncertainty and fear that colors our daily existence.

I recall the true story about a worker in Russia who accidentally locked himself in a large refrigerator car. He resigned himself to his fate of death. As he felt his body becoming numb, he recorded the story of this approaching death in sentences scribbled on the wall of the car. "I'm becoming colder," he wrote. Still colder, now. Nothing to do but wait. I am slowly freezing to death. . . half asleep now. I can hardly write. When the car was opened a few days later, he was found dead. The freezing apparatus was, and had been out of order. There was plenty of air in the car and absolutely no physical reason for his death. He had become a victim of his own beliefs and illusions.

To get the most out of these Conversations, I have a task for you. You must agree to set a firm resolve to be willing to give up ILLUSIONS that have become truths to you. These false beliefs twist our thinking about others and ourselves.

We must face these and compare them with the definition of truth. I will often refer to this definition of truth found in the writings of the famous theologian, Thomas Acquinas: TRUTH IS THE CONFORMITY BETWEEN WHAT IS IN THE MIND AND WHAT IS! It is an exciting adventure to measure your perceptions against "what is." Since illusion does not conform to reality, your task is to set about recognizing and erasing them from your thinking.

Sometimes these false beliefs are very comfortable for they have grown up with us. They can become the very glue that holds together who we THINK we are. If illusions are a part of your life, you will find it difficult to know, in reality, who you are. I want to share two examples of illusions in my life.

When I was young, people would say, "You're the type who can eat everything and never gain a pound." And I (like the fool that I am at times) believed them. Before my daughter, Catherine was born, I was rather slender. However, I gained eighty pounds carrying my daughter. After her birth, and for years, I never "saw" the eighty extra pounds. I never looked in a mirror, and I hated to buy clothes. It was a case of grand denial of girth. It was only after sixteen years that I admitted to myself that my illusion of my weight did not conform to "what is."

I was holding onto an illusion about myself, and there would be no change until I chose to let go of that illusion. With this self-revelation about my size, I learned two more truths that were of utmost importance. First, the illusion of myself traveling around in a sixteen-year-old body was not realistic or even desirable. Second, I was not a fat person, but a person who had a weight problem. This is an important distinction that we will discuss in detail in our Conversation on liabilities.

Another piece of my personal illusionary history may be of value to you. After my mother abandoned me, I was raised in orphanages and foster homes. I was with one particular family from age four to age twelve. It was a family of Swedish people. The father person of this family had tolerance for only white, Swedish, Protestant persons. He was a true-to-life Archie Bunker type individual. As a result, I never enjoyed watching Archie Bunker in "All In The Family." I lived with "him"!

From time-to-time, the son in the family referred to me as a "Kike." Now, I didn't know what that meant, but like the family dog, Buster, I knew by the tone of his voice that it was not a compliment. However, I was determined to be accepted in this family. By the age of five, I saw my Jewishness as a cancer to be cut out of my entire life. Of course, this meant I had to cut out any association with my father, too.

I learned quickly that being Jewish was not the thing to be. Although I couldn't erase the raven black hair I had inherited, I could assume the family's Swedish last name. I did just that on the first day of school. I went from Rachel Sennett (my birth surname) to Rachel Granberg. I learned to hate my birth name of Rachel. After all, what could be more Jewish? but since everyone called me "Rae," I lived with it as I had no choice at the time.

During the years at the foster home of the Granbergs, I would fall asleep every night pushing up my nose in a "pug-nose" position. In my child's mind, I thought maybe this would make me look somewhat Swedish.

Years later, when I joined the Catholic Church, I finally got away from my birth name by using my baptismal name, Mary Rachel. I soon dropped the "Rachel" and along with it my Jewish identity. I did not have to face any more fear or rejection. I could live the illusion of having no connection with anything Jewish. Many years after I married, my husband bought me a sterling silver star of David. I could not bring myself to wear it for a long, long time. I finally had a friend put it around my neck. I couldn't stand it; I experienced a real choking sensation.

Not many years ago, I came to terms with that "Rachel person" and chose to like her. You see, if you hide from the truth, it eventually shows up and meets you coming around a corner somewhere. Illusion kills growth, and I came to realize I was expending precious energy feeding an illusion that was death dealing and not life giving.

I will tell you how I faced, and in turn, came to love my "Rachel person." My notebook and I did the job. I will talk about my notebook in the next Conversation. First, I wrote all about Rachel � her rejection, her fear, her isolation, and the ignorance of anti-Semitism. Second, I wrote down all the things that could not be changed in the situation. I could not change the fact that I was half-Jewish. I would be this for the rest of my life. Also, I could not change my childhood experiences. Third, I wrote about all the things that could be changed. I could change the present and how I felt about being Jewish. And the wonderful news is that I have. You see, I really had two choices:

I could have continued to blame my background, the Swedish family, my parents, and anti-Semitism for my identity problem, or I could choose to embrace the truth of my heritage and learn to see the good of it.

I took many years of mental discipline and firm purpose to get to know the "Rachel" part of me. After all, I had deliberately eliminated her for years. I set about to make friends with Jewish people. I would sit and listen to them for hours. I would wonder at the fact that they were not ashamed to be Jewish. I began to relish their company. I felt at home with my heritage. Now I have a gold star of David with the dove of peace resting in the center. It is a symbol of my peace with my Jewishness and my love for my father.

Do you have an illusion that dominates your life? If you pretend it is the truth, it will color your life with uneasiness. It must be faced and accepted. It is only through this process that authentic living can be born and grow. The following are some tips on dealing with your illusions.

Make a section of your notebook entitled�ILLUSIONS. Write about any pretenses that you have made real in your life.

  • Describe the illusion in complete detail.
  • List what you can change and what you cannot change.
  • Have compassion and forgive yourself and others.
  • Have patience with yourself.
  • Develop a plan of action to change the things you can change.
  • Find support to a accept the things you cannot change.
  • Remember, illusions, like mine take years to develop, nurture, and grow. It will take time to bring what is in the mind into conformity with "what is."

In hundreds of little ways, we are prone to shift the responsibility for our situation and state of affairs from our own shoulders to those of others. By habit, we blame others for the cause of our problems. The thinking follows that if I am not the cause, then I do not have to do the changing. It is here you stop growing and you begin your desperate drive around your own personal "outerbelt" of misery.

It was my beliefs and attitude about my heritage as well as my holding others responsible for my unhappiness that kept me stuck in my misery. You cannot change the truth, but you can change your attitude about the truth. When I finally faced my Jewish background and dropped the illusion of being Swedish, the freedom of truth spread through my whole being. I was on the road to authenticity.

As you work with the definition of truth I have given you, or rather, that Thomas Aquianas has given you, you will be able to wrestle with and defeat the illusions that hinder your personal growth.

Now, let me tell you something about yourself that is not an illusion or a false belief. YOU ARE FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE! God (or whatever you name your HIGHER POWER) has created you unique in all creation. Give some thought to just a few facts about your body.

  • You have 206 bones and 600 muscles that move those bones where you want them.
  • You have 970 miles of blood vessels that course blood through your body and a pump (your heart) that keeps the blood moving.
  • This pump beats 4,200 times every hour and pumps twelve tons of blood each day.
  • There are 400 tiny cups on your tongue for tasting and 20,000 hairs in your ear for tuning sound.
  • There are 600 million little air cells in your lungs that inhale 2,400 gallons of air each day.
  • You have a telephone system that Ma Bell only wishes she had! This system instantly relates to your brain any sound, sight, taste, touch, or smell.

These are just a few of the phenomenal facts about your body. To detail all the facts about the power of your brain and the potential power of your mind and imagination would take more time than you have to read.

Engineers have estimated it would take a building several acres in size to house the computers that could match even the dullest human brain. If the mind is so powerful it can kill, as in the story of the Russian, believing that your own mind can determine the direction and quality of your future is both right and reasonable.

Spend some time, now, and get your notebook set up. List the illusions you have had as a child and those that still influence your consciousness. Talk to you later.


Mary's website, Guilbert Associates, is located at

Contact Information:

Mary Guilbert:
7739 Burkey Drive
Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
(614) 577-0687
Email:[email protected]

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