The willingness to consider possibility requires a tolerance of uncertainty. –Rachel Naomi Remen
My good friend Google tells me to “begin” is to “undergo the first part of (an action or activity).” That makes it sound fairly easy, right? It’s a nice and straightforward clinical definition that leaves out the often-intense emotional experiences of beginnings. Starting something new is many things but it’s rarely easy.
A few days ago I was thinking about the many beginnings I’ve faced. Presently, I’m a little ways down the road of another starting point in my professional life, as April 2015 marks the beginning of my new counseling/psychotherapy practice. This isn’t my first professional beginning. Over the years I’ve changed areas of social work practice, new clients come and go, and each day brings a new therapeutic issue or concept to delve into and understand. As beginnings go, though, this practice is a big one for me.
Maybe you’re in a similar place with something new or perhaps a change is on the horizon. Professionally or personally, it seems we’re always beginning, in a sense. It is a large part of what it means to be alive, whether it’s waking up and facing a new day, beginning a new medical treatment, picking up a new hobby, starting a new relationship, seeing a new client, beginning a new program of study in school, starting therapy, or starting a new job or business. Depending on who we are, our history, and the specifics of the road we’re setting out on, we can generally expect some degree of stress about what’s to come.
When I’m orienting myself to a new experience, I find comfort in the collective wisdom of friends, and so I asked some of mine to answer the question, “What do you think about beginnings?” The varied responses came quickly. Some suggested we’ll never feel fully ready for our particular beginning, and so we must go ahead and do it anyway, moving forward through fear, uncertainty, and perfect imperfection. For others the concept of a beginning is too stressful and often arbitrarily defined as such–what feels like a beginning in some aspects of life is really not that at all, as what is happening was set in motion long before through earlier effort.
For some, focusing on beginnings feels like too much pressure. It’s like if you miss a beginning, you’ve missed out. Instead, middles are the ideal places, offering up more opportunities for a new start. Attention was given to the newness and naiveté that can surround beginnings–recognition that the brain desires novelty and may be more motivated by an exciting beginning and somewhat blind to the possible difficulties ahead. Others pointed out how our brains can analyze every potential worst-case scenario along the map, almost paralyzing us from moving forward at all. Another shared that beginnings are easier when you break them down into manageable parts and get started one part at a time.
For me, beginnings are intense. With every one, depending on the magnitude of what is happening, I’m called to be present with the internal experience of anticipation (which sometimes includes excitement), fear, and uncertainty. At the same time, I am learning to recognizing a deeper knowledge that I will be OK even when I’m not completely sure how. It’s like standing blindfolded with a parachute on the precipice of where I’ve been and having no idea how close I am to where I’m going. My next footstep will hit land or sky, but either way, I know I’ll keep walking or I’ll fly. It may not be fast and it may not be pretty all the time and I may have to climb back up again to start over, but I’ll keep moving.
Now, I pose the question to you, “What do you think about beginnings?”
If you’re beginning something, there may be anticipation and excitement or fear and apprehension. Depending on the nature of your particular road, perhaps there’s some of all of it. Whatever it is, no matter what is being asked of you or what you’re asking of yourself, it is so important for you to take good care of yourself. Please don’t let genuine self-care become a cliché. Here are some ideas that have been working for me…
- Be patient with yourself and how you’re responding emotionally and physically. It takes time to accept something new or feel competent in it and sometimes that process has to happen over and over.
- Remember to go heavy on the self-compassion and pull the reins in on self-shaming. Try not to be hard on yourself when you stumble or struggle.
- Spend time thinking about things other than what is beginning. Mental and physical breaks are important. You don’t have to force yourself not to think about what’s going on (that generally backfires); just try to direct your attention elsewhere. It’s OK if you shift back into beginning thinking, but make sure several times a day to reorient yourself to the other things and people in your life and spend some time there, too.
- Exercise–Even gentle movements, such as yoga, help your brain and body handle stress.
- Take care of your physical body and emotional health by soothing using your senses. Pamper yourself-take a warm bath, get massages, go on and get that pedicure you’ve been putting off. Eat a delicious meal. Listen to new or familiar music you love. Smell coffee beans (insert favorite smell). Sit outside and feel the breeze, the heat of the sun on your skin, or stare at the stars. Hug someone.
- Read books that inspire or allow you to delve into your imagination. If you feel like you don’t have time for books, find articles or even quotes that speak to you about what you’re experiencing or take you somewhere else for a short while.
- Reach out to the collective wisdom for support. Finding trusted others to talk with along the way to encourage and guide you. Support is crucial. No one expects you to do this alone.
That’s enough for now. Just remember… Start where you need to start. Take breaks. Start again when you’re ready. Be patient. Most of all, be good to yourself. Abbie