The Art of Beginning

As the new year  weaves its way into our lives, I am struck by the singular opportunity that beginnings provide. A fresh start, from a kindling of an idea to the sunrise of a new day, is like cracking the cover of a new book. Who knows what adventures and storylines lie in the pages ahead? Sure, some of us have a clear idea of the basic narrative of our “book,” but none of us can fathom all the delicious details, or displeasing ones, that will make each page, each day, unique. It is why beginnings sometimes have their way with us. Even though we can’t foresee how a new start will unfold, we innocently begin, thinking we do.

To complicate matters, beginnings are not always auspicious and instead are often bumpy roads of uncertainty seasoned with a dose of, “What the hell was I thinking?” I remember beginning cosmetology school in my twenties. Well, that is an overstatement as I quit soon after applying or, more accurately, after cutting my sister’s hair. She had asked for a simple trim upon hearing I had enrolled. I thought, “How difficult can that be?” Cut to me, scissors in hand, bent over my sister’s wet hair, snipping away, and away, and, did I say, away? What began as a trim ended in hair carnage. After my client examined her tortured hairdo, we locked eyes. While my brain was calculating how to quit my fledgling career, I am pretty sure my sister was pondering the criminal ramifications of sororicide. This beginning was finished before I started. But that’s okay, I wanted to move out of state anyway. Besides, a failed beginning can still teach us. For example, in this case, I learned why in all my childhood photos it looks like my mother cut my bangs with a butter knife.

Many beginnings turn into a series of false starts that look like running into a wall repeatedly. Therefore, for us to get good at starting new things, maybe we should incorporate running into the wall as part of the process? After all, it’s not the running into the wall that matters, it’s knowing that it doesn’t. We can get up and start again. That’s what counts.

Consider how we began in the first place. For most of us, it wasn’t the smoothest entry into life; maybe a little easier for me, as I weighed a measly five pounds at birth. Not so for my brother-in-law, Paul, who came into the world at over double my weight. Imagine 11 pounds of baby making his way towards the light. That is not the easiest way to begin! But we do. Perhaps as a babe we’re led by primal forces, because if we used our mind to think about it, after one contraction, the birthing equivalent of “hitting the wall,” we’d probably roll over in utero, turn on the TV, and decide to be a womb-potato.

It’s helpful to know that expectation is what’s riding shotgun next to all beginnings. Why else would we begin something new, if we didn’t have an assumption it would work? I didn’t learn to ski expecting I’d be lying in a bank of snow, crying. No! I imagined I’d swoosh down the mountain, rosy cheeked, with a swagger of confidence from conquering my fear of sliding. Yes, fear of sliding, you read that correctly; it’s a topic for another time. The point is we begin things because of that enticing expectation. It is the fuel of our desire, igniting our imagination and keeping our passion simmering on the back burner of life, while we go about our daily ministrations. It is vital to beginnings! But let us couple it with a seemingly opposite, but twin expectation that we will fall down and it doesn’t mean anything. Think of it as wearing clear, not rose-colored glasses, because this is no ode to Pollyanna. It’s the clear hue of consciousness recalibrating our sensibilities, so that when our next beginning looks sloppy and shouts, “For God’s sake, stop!,” we can respond with the freedom of a three-year-old and not pay attention.

Now, lest you think all my beginnings end in snowbanks and quitting, I’ve also had remarkable results, like my relationship. A quote by Goethe actually propelled us to get married. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic.” We knew that we could keep talking about tying the knot - or we could do it - and in that choice to begin, the boldness would carry us forward. It more than did. Even though, true to form for beginnings, it was a bumpy start. 28 years later, I’d marry him again today.

So begin anew and fall down, if you will. Hit that wall and get up and do it again. If you keep at it, beginnings do have genius, power, and magic. Just start and see.