“Start Where You Are” is great advice as long as you know exactly where that might be.

About eight years ago, I decided I should write a children’s book. We had a family member going through an alcohol recovery program and as I watched their children deal with all the disruption, chaos, and confusion, my heart ached. I had lost my father to addiction when I was in kindergarten, so I could relate to their pain.  As a kid, I was an avid reader who learned many life lessons from book friends like Fern Arable and Scout Finch. They often brought me comfort and hope, and I wondered if I could provide the same to a struggling young audience myself. So, I read articles about writing, talked to writers, and even interviewed a children’s author about her work. I did much to prepare, but I never actually wrote my book. Oh, I started– got down a thousand words or so, then stopped. I picked it up a few more times, but quit when I got stuck or it became too hard. I just couldn’t make myself write beyond the difficult parts. The problem was that even when I wasn’t writing, the idea that I should be haunted me. It was there in the back of my head, reminding me it was a thing undone I needed to do. Until last year. In the midst of 2020, I determined that now was the time to finally do what had been nagging at me for nearly a decade. So, I joined an on-line writing group for some education, accountability and encouragement.

One of my greatest obstacles in re-setting on this book-writing journey has been my propensity to waste time bemoaning the fact that I have wasted so much time not working on this project. That is, I noticed I spent a lot of time telling people, “I can’t believe I haven’t been working on this project for eight years!” Or “I can’t believe all the time I wasted not writing!” (Meanwhile, note that during these kvetching sessions I was still not writing—the irony!) Luckily for me, one day amidst my moaning, my writing group coach offered, “Well, you’re here now, so you might as well start where you are.” Her words struck me as I realized that’s the only place a person can start, isn’t it? Wherever they are.

But before I was able to start, I had to consider “where am I?” And to do that, I had to answer a few questions for myself: Why hadn’t I been writing? What was it that had kept me from doing what I said I felt I needed to do all this time?  And since I first felt the pull to write the book, what was the same for me now as it had been then? And what was different? This was not an earth shattering exercise, but I hoped I’d notice there was something I had learned, a perspective I had gained that might help me write a better book now than I would have eight years ago.  As I reflected, I realized what had kept me from writing most was my fear of failing. Writing was hard! I lacked confidence in my writing skills and the thought that I’d write a crappy book that others would scoff at kept me paralyzed from moving forward. 

But as I continued on to the next question, “what is the same now?” I realized the need had not changed. Kids out there still need encouragement; I still felt the need to share my story. Also the same? Writing is still hard! And to be honest, I continue to doubt my writing skills. But when I asked myself what had changed, I recognized that in those eight years I’d not been writing,  I had been working on learning to give myself grace. I had come to realize during that time that some progress is better than no progress. So, if I write a book and it happens to be crappy, well, at least it’s one more book than I had before! Something is better than nothing and my desire to move forward has come to outweigh my contentment with being stuck. 

I want to point out that while I took time to reflect on what had kept me from writing all those years, my focus continued to be on my starting line. I knew I had to acknowledge the past in order to go forward, but I was finally done with lamenting the past. It’s like that moment in The Lion King where Rafiki tells Simba you have the choice to either be overwhelmed and hurt by your past, or you can choose to learn from it and change.  I realized there was no longer any reason to bemoan the fact that I had not written for so long; it was simply time to pick up my feet and move once more to the start line of Page 1. 

You probably have your own goals or projects that haunt you when you lay your head on the pillow at night.  Perhaps there’s something you’ve thought about starting that you just haven’t brought yourself to do yet. It could be finding a new job or writing a book of your own. It might be losing the baby weight from your last kid who’s now a first-grader, or training for a marathon. Maybe it’s organizing your linen closet or painting your laundry room. Whatever it is, I encourage you to start where you are. But first, take a moment and ask yourself some questions to figure out where, exactly, that might be.  There is power in that reflection, and wisdom for sure. And then the real transformation will occur when you take those lessons you’ve learned, lace up your shoes and head to that start line to begin.