Friday, June 14, 2013

How To Do Anything.

My daughter is learning to write. Not just I-can-spell-things-correctly, but really write.

Her awesome 4th grade teacher has them writing all the time. About anything and everything. He knows that the more you do something, the more you'll drop self-doubt and fear.

She padded up to me a few nights about with an essay she had written.  I knew she was proud of it, otherwise she would never have shown me, but she downplayed it when she asked me to read it, saying, "this isn't very good, I don't think."

On her face eagerness and trepidation fought it out.

I've learned not to be overly enthusiastic in my responses to practically-no-win situations like these. If I chirp, "It's amazing! Perfect! There's nothing not to like about this!"  her chin trembles and she says - every time - "you don't like it."

If my response is too moderate - not enough chirp - the trembling chin appears and she says "you don't like it."

So I read it with my own share of trepidation, not about whether or not it's good, but how to help this kid believe in herself, to understand that it's all about the effort, not the outcome.

I gave her a smile and said, "I really like it. Especially the beginning. It really made me want to read more." 

She beamed.  "That's called an engaging beginning. It's important because it's the first thing someone reads so you don't want it to be boring."

"Sometimes I write my beginnings at the end, after I've finished the rest of it," I said.  "Or I'll just write a boring beginning and make it more interesting after I've finished it."

"You can re-write your beginnings?" she asked, her eyes wide. "That's cool!"


I've re-written so many of my beginnings. In recovery, people often say "you get to write your own endings", and I do love that concept, but to me it's more like re-writing your beginning.  Because we don't have that much control over our endings, although we love to feel like we do.  It's the beginnings that we have control over.

Putting a foot forward onto a new path is terrifying. We squint our eyes, desperately trying to see over the horizon.  It's much easier to venture onto a brand new path if we know we'll be successful.  Or safe.  If we are certain there will be laughter and joy and peace along the way.  We believe there will be hardships - bandits hiding in the bushes, mountains to climb, potholes to fall in. It's easy to believe in the obstacles. Where we struggle is with the unavoidable uncertainty that we don't know where it will lead.  All we really know is what the path looks like right under our feet. 

Here's the truth: there will be both. There will be bandits, and potholes and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Maybe some of these obstacles won't be surmountable, and then - gulp - you'll have to start on yet another new path to get where it is you're heading.  There will be smooth, pebbled paths, beautiful vistas and rest stops, too.  That's life.

Sobriety is like this. So is fighting cancer. Or losing weight. So is starting a new business venture or sending a kid off to the first day of school. Or college. Or anywhere.  We want to run ahead, smoothing out the path, shooing away bandits and hacking easy paths around mountains.

We want someone to guarantee our own success, too. No matter how old we are. We want our own path-smoother.

We don't need a path-smoother, though.  We need a walking buddy, or a stranger on the path who hands us water or offers a place to rest.  Those people can be found in the most unexpected of places, too, if we're looking.

Cheerleaders are great to have - all "sis-boom-bah!" and "you can do it!", but we also need a few navigators, people who have walked the path before, or who aren't afraid to tell us we've lost our way.

I've been lost many times. I've doubted myself more than I haven't.  It was in the stumbling that I figured out that I wasn't on the road meant for me.

More than a few people have said to me when I am talking to them about losing weight, or getting sober, or starting a new venture or fighting cancer, 'that's easy for you to say, you did it already."

But I haven't.  I'm just doing.  To lose weight I had to be overweight. To be sober I had to be drunk. To start a business I had to have nothing. To beat cancer I had to have cancer.  I'll gain weight, my sobriety will wobble (or fall), my businesses fail, my cancer will lie in wait, or go away.  I don't control any of that. I haven't written the endings to any of these things, yet.  Just lots and lots of beginnings.

Wherever you are in life, whatever you are facing - sobriety? weight loss? a move? a divorce? starting (or ending) a business venture? - the path is long and twisty, and your choices are few: lie down and give up or take the first step.

That first step? That's you, writing your own beginning.


  1. Gillian in WalesJune 14, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Oh wow. Thank you for that.

    I have just been reading a blog all about, well, I guess it's all about the beginnings. The choices we all make, one moment at a time.

    And it's about choosing to live, to find out what the next step is about.

    I am in a bit of uncertainty at the moment - looking to sell our house, buy a house with a whole new lifestyle with it, husband looking to leave current job. And in the midst of it all, I come here, and know I can just choose my own beginning.

    "Once upon a time..."

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