Living With Beginnings, and starting over every day.

October 19, 2011

Photo by Curtis Fry. Spring - the ultimate beginning.

It has now been one week since Fear.less launched our “new site”, i.e. we got a makeover and we blog more now. Even a couple years into this project, we’ve still managed what might be called a new beginning.

Progress is nothing but a long chain of beginnings. In fact, stagnation is nothing but a long chain of beginnings too. And sometimes, stagnation that feels like stagnation, a bunch of starts that look like they head nowhere, is progress too. I know this is vague. It shows just how poorly we understand the nature of beginnings.

We like stories with arcs and endings. A contained story, whether it’s a movie or the About page on a cool person’s website, has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is bare, maybe quiet, maybe imposing. It grows into the middle. Things aren’t like we were before. We can sense the change and the developing complication. This leads to something big. Once that’s over, the story ends.

Life usually isn’t so brief and tautly-paced. We don’t want to watch a movie about a guy starting and failing to quit smoking, over and over. When we watch a sports movie, we don’t want to see every single football practice before the big game. All we need to be shown, for the story’s sake, is the first practice where we see how harsh the coach is and maybe one a couple weeks later where teammates make a breakthrough in getting along with each other. Perhaps there will be a montage. It could be a great movie that tells a great story, but it doesn’t fully convey the slow processes of the team members getting better at football or becoming friends. It’s arduous, not fit for many storytelling media, and entails a lot of repeated beginnings and repeated failures.

I’ve read countless variations of advice on, say, writing a book, that goes like this: “If you want to write a book, all you have to do is write one word, and then another. And then another, and another, and another, until the book is done.” This is almost comforting because it breaks it down into small steps, but until you actually write out “and another” 49,995 more times, you haven’t provided me with even a mildly satisfactory idea of what getting a book written is going to be like. And that’s just the act of making the words readable, not coming up with them. Partitioning the process alone doesn’t prepare you for what it feels like to keep having to begin new chapters and new paragraphs, or what it’s like to live a story that’s just a bunch of new beginnings and so unlike anything you’ve ever read or seen.

Every day, you start out having run zero miles. You might hurry up and defuse that feeling by running a few miles right away, but by the next day you’re at zero again. You sense that progress might be happening, but the pattern of going from something back to nothing and working back up to something over and over can get taxing.

Overcoming this, I think, is one of the pillars of self-gentleness. If we could be satisfied with the small chunks of work we do and distance we run every day and celebrate them as honest victories, we might be less inclined to quit. Focusing less on the big picture might, in the long run, help the big picture as far as habit-forming and lifestyle-changing are concerned. It’s just a fact of human daily life that we always feel like we’re starting over. The way to live with it is by appreciating what we do as reaching a satisfying ending. And then, some time down the line, maybe some of these endings can be chained together, and we can call that a finished book, a finished marathon or a kicked bad habit.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Luisa Perkins October 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Beautiful, honest, and inspiring. Thanks.

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John October 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Thanks for the reminder. Today is a new day. By the way, I love the new site.

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Sonja October 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

That was really nice. Thanks.

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Matt October 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

thank you for your lovely comments and for forgiving the atrocious formatting that carried over from notepad, which i have fixed.

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Laura October 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Thank you for the lovely post. As a self-employed person who doesn’t have a lot of external pressures to shape my days, I struggle every day with managing my time and avoiding procrastination amongst the tangle of amorphous obligations and tasks that need to be completed. I find this helpful and hopeful.

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Matt October 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm

amorphous, yes, for sure. when you make your own destiny as you are, the lack of guidance can really be confusing sometimes, even if usually it is a blessing. thank you for commenting

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Vicky October 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Matt thank you very much for these hopefull and strengthening words. I’ve recently joined Fear.less as I too Laura am embarking on the seemingly lonesome path of self employment. I’ve been terrified that I will lose motivation at a time most needed. However, these posts have been making me realise strengths I never knew I had or ones I’ve rediscovered. This one reminds me to be kind to myself. “Enlightenment is not found at the destination but in the series of moments along the journey.”

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Gaurav.varma@gmail.com October 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Great Post Matt and Ishita…

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EA October 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I really appreciate the realism of this. So very easy to connect with what is described here. Thanks for writing this.

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Maria October 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for your inspiring words. I need it for I am writting a book.
thanks again,
maria

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Matt October 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

you are my hero

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Joshua October 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Thanks for this. It always helps knowing that I am not the only person feeling these feelings. The new site is off the chain… keep up the good work!

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Matt October 20, 2011 at 5:02 am

thank you! we’ve always found the feeling of not actually being alone to be one of the most helpful

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Cynthia October 20, 2011 at 12:53 am

I am entirely grateful for the gentle reminder of the experience of humanity in action (with ourselves and others). Thank you.

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Matt October 20, 2011 at 5:03 am

no problem. thank you for commenting. we try to keep things gentle around here. but fairly direct too. like a nuzzle from a dog.

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Sara October 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Hi. Thanks for this great post. I especially loved this: “Focusing less on the big picture might, in the long run, help the big picture as far as habit-forming and lifestyle-changing are concerned.” So true. I run a site about how acupuncture can help us reframe our views, on health but also life processes in general. The idea that shifting the big picture happens by being less deliberate, by actually taking a step back to appreciate the progress that has been made, is so true and encouraging when it comes to making positive changes. I loved reading this and continue to love the site in general. Keep up the awesome work.

Sara

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Matt October 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm

thank you for the comment and encouragement!

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Catharina October 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Thanks Matt for an inspiring post….a big Yes to self-gentleness. And I think also consciously deciding to take the feeling with us whilst we do what matters (with our arms, legs, mouth).

I love the new site!

Catharina

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Joy October 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for this really great piece of writing!

As a perfectionist who tries her darnest to live life as I envision, your statement about self-gentleness and celebrating our daily accomplishments really struck me. I tend to feel let down constantly by what I deem as failures to my personal goals that I rarely feel any sense of victory. I’m taking your advice and am going to be less cynical of myself.

Keep up the good work and see you guys at the finishing line of this marathon we call life! :)

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sonal October 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm

I have reading your magazine for quite some time . It is inspirational to read such stories . Our life itself is a sweet journey with some ending which we donot know . But to keep it on right track we need inspiration from a person ,more people who work for others . Thanks for doing good work !
peace !!!!

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Shawn Michel de Montaigne October 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I started my novel Melody and the Pier to Forever in 2003. I finished it just this year, in April. It was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I had to endure a very serious shoulder injury, skin cancer (both without medical insurance), near homelessness (the 3-day notices were thicker than my manuscript at many points), hunger, random violence (I was attacked by a gang wielding paint-ball rifles as I walked to a local pizza joint one evening), betrayal from every corner, and–probably worst–loneliness as the days, weeks, months, and years passed. No one believed in me. I don’t say that lightly: I mean it: absolutely no one believed in me. No one cared. This last inspired intense panic attacks which eventually landed me into the emergency room–twice.

That said, I would not trade what I went through for the world. Because I did it: I wrote a real novel, one that I truly believe is great. It does not matter that others may not see it that way. What matters is that *I* do.

Do what you love, yes. But believe none of the nonsense about money or fame or status following. It may, it may not. That’s not the point; nor should it be your goal. The Kingdom of God is a spacious land, very sparsely populated. There’s a reason why.

~~*~~

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Suraj November 8, 2011 at 8:29 am

Nice write up.thanks

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