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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!