Yes, beginnings are exciting, new and filled with shiny possibilities. They really are.
But they are also usually pretty bumpy.
The fact that beginnings are bumpy does not indicate that you’ve started the wrong new thing. Or that the new thing you’ve tried is a bad fit for you and your skills. Or that you’re bad at the new thing. (Actually, you might very well be bad at it now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be bad at it.)
Beginnings are bumpy because they’re new. You haven’t had the chance to settle in and get to know this new thing that you’ve started. You haven’t had the chance to calm down and let go of your first-time jitters. You haven’t had the chance to practice. You haven’t had the chance to work out the kinks.
So, as we begin anything, we need to give ourselves a chance. We need to remind ourselves to trust the process.
In essence, when we trust the process, we are sticking to a long-term plan despite a few bad outcomes in the short-term.
Trusting the process, for me at least, is what keeps me going as I get bounced around by my beginnings’ bumps. And, for me at least, there are always seem to be bumps. For the record, I really don’t enjoy bumps. I strongly prefer smooth – smooth water under my water skis, smooth snow under my snow skis, smooth air currents as I fly. You get the picture.
Despite the bumps of any new beginning, I have learned to trust that anything that I decide is worth beginning is worth sticking with for longer than the first few bumpy moments. I have learned (despite my ability to catastrophize with the best of them) to trust that the painful kinks of a new thing are not actually a death knell for that new thing. I have learned to trust my ability to climb almost any reasonable learning curve.
I suspect the beginning of my yoga practice had a lot to do with my ability to trust the process of beginning. I’m not sure there has ever been a bumpier beginning. I’m certain there was no reason for my teacher to suspect that she was witnessing the start of a practice that would span a decade and a half and become my life’s work.
I walked into her class wearing nothing that resembled yoga clothes. Everyone else was in fitted pants and tops. I was in the baggy shorts, over-sized t-shirt and socks that I walked the dog in. My mat was so “wrong” (a thick, cushy, blue thing perfect for protecting your tailbone while doing sit-ups) that she immediately pulled out a loaner for me to use. I was so inflexible that I could barely touch my shins let alone my toes in a forward fold. I was so weak that my low push-up (chaturanga) looked like a belly flop. I burst out into quiet laughter more than once at my remarkable inability to do what she’d asked us to do. Looking back, it still makes me laugh. The “bumps” in that particular beginning more closely resembled a ski hill than a mogul.
Yet this was the beginning of the next stage of my life. I didn’t know it at the time (and wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me), but this was the start of everything I dreamed of having. A passion. A practice to help heal me and transform me. A profession. Not to get overly dramatic, but at many times in my life, yoga has felt like my calling.
But not that day. That day, there was no sign of any of that. In fact, there was no visible natural aptitude at all. There was just a quiet sense deep within me at the end of that first class (11:00 on a Monday morning in September of 2002, in case you’re wondering) that I’d just done something different than anything I’d ever done. And that, despite everything that went “wrong” that morning, I wanted to do it again.
So I did. A lot. And I got better.
Which is how you navigate the bumps of any new beginning. You trust the process by showing up again. And again and again and again.
So, whatever you’re starting right now – or whatever you started last week or the week before – remind yourself that a smooth start is not a prerequisite for your eventual success. In fact, upon reflection, I wonder if the bumps aren’t actually a prerequisite for that. For it’s the bumps that make us apply ourselves, focus, get creative, be determined and pour ourselves into what we’re doing 100%. And each of those things is actually a prerequisite for long-term success.
Trust the process, my friends. I’m going to do the same.
Beginnings matter. They are important to the entire experience. They set the tone. They determine the direction.
As you read the following first lines, watch the feelings they create within you. You might notice your facial expression shifting. You might notice a shiver of anticipation, especially if you have read the book.
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” (Dickens)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in search of a wife.” (Austen)
“Once upon a time, in a far off land …” (a million fairy tales)
Beginnings of books are crafted by authors to capture their readers’ attention right out of the gate. They are written to create an immediate sense of curiosity that will make keep their audience unable or at least unwilling to put the book down. Beginnings of books are a welcome and an introduction – saying, if you will, “I’m glad you’re here. This is my voice and my story. I hope you’ll stay and listen.”
In January, the beginning is yours to craft. The slate is clean. The pages of your year lie ahead of you – gleaming white and unsullied. Even if you aren’t starting a new job or a new course of study or a new fitness plan or even a new hobby, the simple fact that it’s January makes life feel like a brand new beginning.
The world around you is making resolutions. This can be a great way to make your regular life feel new. Like carefully crafted opening lines of books, resolutions can set the tone and direction for your new year. Experience has taught me that dictatorial resolutions such as “Lose 10 pounds” or “Stop swearing,” are about as inspiring as the oft-ridiculed opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” (Bulwer-Lytton)
I have learned that resolutions that inspire gradual and rewarding change have more staying power – “Do one thing each week that keeps me in touch with a local friend” or “Write in my journal regularly as a way to reflect upon and see my professional growth.” Like the brilliant opening lines above, resolutions like these capture my attention and offer me gifts along the way that make me unwilling not to see them through.
Like a well-crafted opening line, resolutions like these also inspire a sense of curiosity. This state of mind is a powerful one. In my yoga practice, I move through one of two series of postures six days a week. At first glance, this might seem like it would be profoundly dull. Over the years, I have found that the opposite is true. Though the postures I do are always the same, they are also never the same. The way my body feels – my strength, flexibility, sense of balance and focus – is always changing. Some days postures show up that I’ve never been able to do before. Other days, a posture will disappear on me. Each of my practices is as unknown and as filled with possibility as a new year. This makes me feel profoundly curious each time I unroll my mat.
This curious state of mind that comes to me naturally on my yoga mat is something I have had to learn to cultivate in other areas of my life – as a parent, a spouse, a friend, a teacher and a student. In these areas, unlike on my yoga mat, I can tend to have ridiculously high expectations of myself. When I am able to stay curious, however, I find that I’m more generous with myself. I’m more adventurous. More interested. More creative. More willing to try new approaches. More courageous.
Most importantly, when I embark on a new beginning with curiosity, I’m more willing to try and try again. I suppose this is just another way of saying that, with curiosity, I’m better able to accept failure for what it really is – an opportunity to learn and grow.
To reiterate, beginnings are important. They set the tone for whatever it is you are embarking upon – a new day, a new experience, a new job, a new relationship, or a new lunch at the same old place you and your friend always go to eat.
You don’t have to be an inspired writer or a particularly creative maker of resolutions to craft a powerful beginning for yourself. And you don’t have to get your beginning precisely right “or else!” You can have as many do-overs as you would like. After all, there is nothing to say that January 12, or February 7 or any day that you get out of bed cannot be filled with just as many amazing beginnings as January 1.
All that matters is that you feel like you’re beginning – filled with the curiosity and hope.
Happy New Year!