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.