Starting Where You Are

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The phrase “start where you are” has been rattling around inside my hard head for a few days now. I am not exactly sure where I first heard it, but I immediately recognized the value of writing about it. Now that I just launched my own blog, it seems especially poignant that my first official blog would be about starting wherever you are with whatever idea or project or goal that you may have.

Trying to find the meaning of a phrase like this could take us in several directions, any of which would be equally worthy of exploration. One direction my mind initially took was about allowing ourselves to move forward by embracing rather than denying the painful aspects or events of our lives. I think most of us can find, though some have done a good job of repressing, painful or hurtful circumstances or events in which we’ve been wounded without having properly dealt with the aftermath. Sometimes we are hesitant to move ahead after a traumatic event, if for no other reason than to show respect and remembrance for what or whom we may have lost. Just that word “aftermath” evokes a powerful memory for me after having recently dealt with my brother Mikes’ death.

One of the most important steps forward I made emotionally with that event was coming to terms with it on my brothers’ terms, not mine. It’s so easy for us to internalize what others do; and in fact, I believe that is what generally hurts us most. Being a man, husband, father, uncle, brother… you don’t always get to grieve with the rest of your family because you’re too busy making sure everything is taken care of so others don’t have to deal with the difficult parts. When I finally started to vocalize my feelings out-loud to others and remove the weight of my own emotional state, I could more easily empathize with what was going on with him. Suddenly I wasn’t so concerned with myself and how it affected me but instead my thoughts were directed my brother and his feelings. It was literally like flipping a switch. I remember so clearly the day I suddenly recognized that I was no longer thinking about him while bathing in the morning because that had been my daily ritual for months.

But that’s what we do isn’t it? We assign our own logic and our own feelings to everything that others do, like somehow others make their own choices based upon what we think. They don’t. Not only are people not respecting our values or our feelings when they do things in which we don’t approve, they probably don’t even share the same logic, mores, or reality that we have. Like I said before, our reality is shaped by our own personal experiences. Our realities are not always the same. So before embarking on something new, let’s first shed some old skin from our past and gain a fresh perspective. Forgive what you can never fully comprehend anyway, recognizing first and foremost that it was never about you.

But that concept, as important as it is, is not what I have been equating with “starting where you are” in my head over the past few days. Instead, I was interpreting it much more literally, much more practically:

To stop making excuses for why you can’t do something, and just do it.

I don’t know about you, but I have a perfectionist inside of me who defers to waiting until the “right” moment, until I have all the necessary tools or facts or information or whatever it is he believes I need to begin. An example is when I was 5 and my mom enrolled me and my siblings into a YMCA swimming class. My mom is fond of telling that for the first few days I refused to participate, patiently watching others swim from the edge of the pool, until suddenly and unexpectedly, after having learned from watching everyone else, I just jumped in the pool and started swimming.

That perfectionist in my head, as humorous as his stories are now, has not really been the best role model for me. He’s quietly worked behind the scenes of my life to write a script that is much more reserved and skeptical than I wish it had been. I have had to fight that guy mightily over the years, and I have won a few battles, but he can be stubborn. He rears his curly head any and every time I think about trying something new, doing something outside of my comfort zone, or when confronted with stretching my possibilities.

Will I be smart enough?
Am I adequately prepared to go down this path?
Will I *gulp* fail?

As I have clawed my way forward and pushed through those seeds of doubt for nearly five decades the result has surprisingly always been the same; Yes, I actually can. No matter where I was, I started right there and I succeeded by learning and growing into a new starting place. Like a caterpillar inching along at a snail’s pace, I and you slowly but eventually find our center then quickly re-orient ourselves to a new normal. An old proverb says that just when the caterpillar believes his life is over – God says nope, you’re a butterfly. Although it couldn’t fly yesterday, today always marks the beginning of a new story – a new life.

As so often happens in my life, opportunities come to me at exactly the right time. Precisely when I need to hear a word of encouragement or to feel like I’m somehow making a difference, an opportunity or a person comes along to fulfill that need. There’s no guarantee, however, that we will even notice that opportunity or that special individual. You have to be aware and observant of your own needs to recognize it. When it happens, you can’t be afraid to own it. You can’t allow yourself to believe that you don’t deserve it or that you’re not prepared to accept it. We all know I could never deserve a wife like Emily. Yet, here we are married and happy. This is a perfect example of me starting where I was, woefully inadequate for the task, then believing with all my heart that I could eventually grow into the role. I’m still growing…

Sometimes we hear words of encouragement from others that we should be able to tell ourselves, but that perfectionist inside us can gobble those words up before they can reach our brain, or heart, or wherever. Don’t be afraid to recognize how awesome you are. If you don’t believe you deserve something good, you’ll never recognize the good that waits for you all around. Somehow words of encouragement come so much easier when inspiring someone else to follow his or her path. So just in case you need to hear some words of encouragement, here you go:

Start where you are.
You can do it.
Now go and do.

Do not let anyone, especially that perfectionist in your head, tell you that you cannot succeed or that you are not smart enough. Also understand that painful events happen to everyone. It’s our ability to hear our own voices that helps us recognize what we need to do to move beyond. If you can’t hear yourself very well, no one else will either; speak up! You are good enough and you are smart enough — or at least you will be — but you will never be either without starting…right where you are.

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