James Pillion: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”

Disconnecting — In the age of the smartphone, it’s become virtually impossible to enjoy time away from technology without inviting FOMO — the fear of missing out on an important email or viral meme. Yet it is critical to disengage and make time for activities that distance you from all forms of technology. Making this standard practice helps us […]

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Disconnecting — In the age of the smartphone, it’s become virtually impossible to enjoy time away from technology without inviting FOMO — the fear of missing out on an important email or viral meme. Yet it is critical to disengage and make time for activities that distance you from all forms of technology. Making this standard practice helps us to remain tuned in to our inner frequency.

As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview James Pillion. He is a critically-acclaimed Australian filmmaker that tells stories from the heart, observing life from the outside in. Born and raised in Sydney, he is an ambitious self-starter, producing and directing his first feature film FAR FROM HERE (streaming on iTunes and Amazon) in Eastern Europe. He has worked with international brands including Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Jeep and began blogging on the road to writing his first self-help book Putting Yourself First due out later this year.

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

In my early twenties I was accepted into a Masters of Fine Arts at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. The two-year accelerated course was to change my life and set me on the path that I still walk today. It also introduced me to the love of my life, a California native who helped me to appreciate the beauty of the Golden State. After close to four years of living in Southern California, the place had effectively become my new home.

In the Spring of 2015, I was detained by border patrol at Los Angeles International airport on a flight back from my hometown of Sydney. I thought they were only going to ask me a few routine questions and called my girlfriend who was waiting outside. It was then that a border patrol officer accused me of working illegally on my visa. There was no trial, no appeal process. I was slapped with a five-year ban and put on the next plane down under. Everything I’d come to know was now nothing more than a memory.

Up until this moment I lived under the assumption that I was in charge of my life. Mildly compulsive, I liked to know what I was having for lunch, religiously washed The Duchess — my 1988 Cadillac Coupe DeVille — on a Sunday and scheduled calendar reminders for my next haircut. Logic and rationality were my best friends and helped to instill the belief that I was in control of my destiny. I’d been living in a fantasy of my own making and it would take close to two years of rigorous self-examination to see the writing on the wall.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

For the past year, I’ve been writing a self-help book that helps readers tap into their creative potential by unlocking their inner child. For most of us, our inner child is buried deep inside, banished to the darkness for the benefit of others. This inner child doesn’t have time for social mores. It wants to have fun, to daydream and finger paint all afternoon. While we can silence its cries intermittently, we can never rid ourselves of it altogether. Like it or not, this inner child is a part of us and offers us so much more than creative fulfillment. Putting Yourself First promises to reconnect us with our truest selves, empowering the reader to drown out the noise and tune in to their own special frequency. In doing so it provides a vital boost to our self-worth and welcomes people into our lives who will help us grow and mature in truly beneficial ways.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

A few years ago I relocated to Berlin after I wrapped post-production on FAR FROM HERE, my first feature film. I’d made plans to reunite with Holland, my partner that I’d been separated from following my deportation from the United States. We gave ourselves a year to try and reignite our relationship yet within a matter of months it was clear we had both changed so much in the time we’d been apart. While we still cared deeply for each other, our priorities had shifted and within six months she told me she was moving back home.

At the end of my lease, I made the decision to travel for a couple of months, to thaw myself out for the summer and finish my new script before moving back home. It was here that I was introduced to a musician who left me with butterflies in my stomach. I was over the moon to discover we would be vacationing in the same city for a week before she resumed her European tour at Glastonbury. We became fast friends, sharing stories with each other from our travels around the world. I told her how much her music meant to me and was blown away to discover the feeling was mutual. She saw me for who I was and confessed that she was an admirer of my work.

While I wasn’t looking for romance, I craved genuine connections and discovered that she yearned for the same. As the days wore on, our relationship grew more intimate as we shared confessional stories with each other. I wanted to know this person entirely, to share my pain in the hopes of mending my broken heart. While we only spent a matter of days in each others company, it felt like a month had come and gone. It made me come alive, allowed me to confront the pain and overcome my self-pity.

In the months following this summer fling, we continued to talk on a regular basis, our long-distance relationship defined through our FaceTime conversations. We made plans to see each other once more but as the months passed, something unhealthy began to grow inside of me. My emotions interlocking with her actions. Waking up to a string of text messages from her would leave me seeing stars but when she failed to return my own, I was prone to falling into deep despair. I told myself that I needed her love to continue growing as an artist and allowed this unhealthy crutch to fuel my imagination.

Within a matter of weeks, our conversations became strained, laced with thoughts and feelings left unsaid. By the end of the year, the elephant in the room had sucked up the last of the oxygen, ultimately leading to our separation. As I weened myself off her unreturned text messages and phone calls, I came to realize how much self-respect I’d given away. In tying up my emotions to the ebb and flow of this relationship, I had allowed it to infiltrate my daily life and had effectively sabotaged my ability to create.

This turning point awakened me to the fact that I was (and always had been) in charge of my choices. That my happiness and ability to create had always come from within and in order to move forward, I had to forgive myself completely. I was responsible for safeguarding my dreams, putting the right energy into the world in order to ensure my own success.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

The exponential rise of technology and communication in the past hundred years has had far-reaching implications on what we see in the mirror. No matter how we try to colour it, the current cultural framework plays a huge role in our inner narrative. In the early twenty-first century, the most pressing example of this lies within social media. Whether we know it or not, most of us underwrite our spiritual and emotional wellbeing to these platforms, using the experience of friends and strangers alike to determine our happiness. What is so dangerous about such a choice is that it warps our perspective of reality.

According to these platforms, we’re too old, too serious, too miserly, too imperfect. These same voices chide us to invest in more and more material success in order to look and feel like the commercials and grasp happiness around the waist. Yet we can never find lasting fulfillment by blindly following the opinions of others. The by-product of such an emotional cycle lends itself to a rise in worthlessness. We begin to lose faith in ourselves and the road ahead, thus beginning the vicious downward cycle into depression and despair.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

Loathing what we see in the mirror goes beyond low self-esteem. It’s a sickness that seeps into our daily lives and affects our ability to communicate with the world around us. It threatens our ability to grow in the workplace and our personal relationships. It is also a leading cause for various addictive crutches, immediate antidotes to satiate the emptiness that comes from feeling inadequate in both body and mind. Whether you have an unhealthy dependence on carbohydrates, prescription medication or alcohol, these vices ensure you remain forever detached from your truest self.

To truly love yourself has nothing to do with following in the footsteps of poor Narcissus, fixating on our reflection at the expense of everything else. Rather it comes back to how we receive ourselves, offering us the ability to step out into the world with quiet resolve. To go about our daily lives without being addled with extreme anxiety and fear. Self-love helps us to sit above the fray, to shrug off the shallow opinions of others and to feel truly comfortable in our own skin. We stop worrying about the billboards and online catalogs and learn to dress in our own image. Rooting out unhealthy choices, we dedicate our time to activities that bring genuine contentment into our lives. For when we know ourselves inside and out, we become so much better at prioritizing our lives.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

When we settle for less the underlying motivator always stems from the same core emotion. Fear. The fear of being alone. The fear of being undesirable. The fear of falling on our face, of being shamed out of our own community. For while we have evolved from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we still make our biggest life decisions based on the tribe. What we do, who we marry and how we interact with our community all come back to this core principle.

When we begin to feel genuine doubt and unhappiness in our life choices, we must face these fears head-on. Our egos are very savvy at distorting the decision-making process, chiding us as selfish and cold-hearted for always wanting more. Yet if a change is what you seek then change is what you deserve. You need to have the courage to act on your instincts and be brave enough to weather the coming storms. While I can only speak from my own experiences, acting on these impulses is a fundamental aspect to finally loving yourself. It is also the only way to evolve and seek out your truest self.

When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but for our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Learning to love yourself starts with acceptance. Acceptance that we are not perfect. That we have made mistakes and hurt others on the road to finding our path. In order to take the first steps to self-love we need to acknowledge that we’re in charge of our choices and always have been. We need to accept ourselves and all our shades of gray. That means having the courage to honestly answer some of the following questions below:

Am I a good listener?

Do I love unconditionally?

Do I give back as much as I receive?

Have I hurt others on the road to finding myself?

Are my past traumas impacting my life?

By acknowledging the various skeletons in our closet, we effectively shine a light on them in order to rid ourselves of them once and for all. This purging begins and ends with forgiving yourself. Freeing yourself from the burden of these unfortunate memories.

In the months following the production for my first feature film, FAR FROM HERE, I moved into an isolated apartment complex on the outskirts of Bucharest (the capital of Romania). It was a concrete box inside a concrete block, the damp hallways dark no matter the time of day. Editing the film in the dead of winter left me feeling rather glum, all my colleagues having departed back stateside. I couldn’t see the glass in front of me as anything more than half-empty and found myself dwelling on the past. While it had been just over six months since my deportation, I had purposefully been turning my back on facing my trauma. In an attempt to heal myself, I drew inward and began to work on exorcising the pain deep inside of me. I spent most of my free time locked away inside my studio, retracing my footsteps in an attempt to bring all the darkness to the surface. I kept a daily journal, writing about my loneliness, my frustrations and my self-contempt following the deportation. In the process, I confronted my choices and held myself accountable for past mistakes. In doing so I replaced my self-loathing with kindness and affirmation, reminding myself that I deserved to grow stronger. I saw the light at the end of my tunnel with a new sense of clarity and understanding. By having the courage to forgive myself, I had turned a new leaf and reconnected with my core self.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

Enjoying our own company isn’t just a fundamental foundation of self-love, it’s a critical part of evaluating our life choices, to know that we’re making each and everyone for the right reasons. It is also a necessary part of understanding our place in the scheme of things. Who are we to the world around us. More importantly, how do we see ourselves? For it’s only when we come to spend time alone that we begin to learn what really motivates us. Investing quality time in ourselves helps us to cherish the time spent in the company of others. It teaches us to stop taking our loved ones for granted, encouraging us to be more present and attentive in the long run.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

When we know what we want within ourselves we can be truly present with the people we care about. We stop worrying about what other people are doing and thinking and instead devote our energy to nourishing our relationships. It’s amazing how much time we invest in all the wrong things when we’re emotionally detached. We nitpick the most insignificant ideas and are far too self-involved in the most unhealthy ways. When we take the time to listen to ourselves and our inner motivations, we start to put all that wasted energy into the right places. Such realignment goes a long way to enriching our daily lives and improving upon what we see in the mirror.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

Much like the title of my book suggests, we need to get better at attending to our own needs before others. While it sounds selfish, it’s actually one of the most benevolent choices we can make. For when we take the time to know ourselves and our hidden motivations, it leads us to better help those around us. It empowers us to stand up for what we believe in, to constantly evaluate our choices and refine our objectives in the process. Society, on the other hand, needs to get better at accepting and celebrating all walks of life, to appreciate that our imperfections and quirks are what make us truly unique. I sincerely believe that such a path would root out so much of the mental anguish and depressive tendencies we see in modern society.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

1. Momentum — This idea can be taken both figuratively and literally and is an integral part of maintaining a genuine connection with yourself. Starting my day with a morning workout is not only nourishing to my body, it’s an effective way to clear my mind for the day ahead. I also apply this strategy to my work, forcing myself to get out of my head by writing and chasing any curious thought.

2. Eating well — As I’ve embraced the power of self-love I’ve learned to reward my body with meals that leave me feeling good about myself. While I’m still guilty of treating myself to indulgences far too often, I’ve learned to cut out meals that leave me feeling tired and dyspeptic, replacing them with nourishing options.

3. Meditation — After taking an introductory course to Vedic meditation with The Broad Place, a Sydney-based wellness retreat, I have been blown away with its ability to centre my energies. The twenty-minute practice has afforded me a greater sense of clarity, allowing me to confront my ever-present fears with a firm sense of resolve. It allows me to root out unhealthy choices in my daily life by listening to my body, encouraging me to invest my energies with greater specificity.

4. Curiosity — The power of curiosity has the potential to keep you forever learning and growing as an individual. In doing so it encourages a greater sense of self-worth as your discoveries almost always leave you feeling better about yourself. Such a practice also keeps your ego in check by never turning your back on self-development.

5. Disconnecting — In the age of the smartphone, it’s become virtually impossible to enjoy time away from technology without inviting FOMO — the fear of missing out on an important email or viral meme. Yet it is critical to disengage and make time for activities that distance you from all forms of technology. Making this standard practice helps us to remain tuned in to our inner frequency.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a fantastic guide to liberating our dreams from our prison of belief. I also love The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a beautiful companion for overcoming the negative voices in our head. I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s Akimbo, a fascinating podcast that examines cultural paradigms and clever ways to overcome our self-imposed limitations. I’ve also found Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop podcast series to be a profoundly holistic look at the many ways we can better ourselves by simply realigning our thinking.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

Asking every single person to take a moment out of their day to give back. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Helping a stranger with directions, calling an old friend or buying a thoughtful gift for a co-worker. We spend too much time wrapped up in our own lives. By doing something generous without the expectation of having it returned, I sincerely believe it would make us happier and a lot more mindful. It would also help us to remember that each and every one of us is struggling through our own unique problems. Lending a helping hand to someone in need goes a long way to bringing us closer to our truest selves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

I love this Eleanor Roosevelt quote as it encapsulates my outlook on life. The men and women who are willing to face themselves on the road to chasing their dreams are most often the same ones that enjoy the greatest levels of happiness and self-worth. For when we finally accept that we are worthy of our dreams, we start to inhabit the world around us differently. We see opportunity and potential in place of failure. Excitement and optimism where despondency once reigned. When we have the courage to truly love ourselves, the world becomes a much more colourful place.

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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