What No One Ever Says About New Beginnings

About seven weeks ago by the time you’re reading this, I stumbled upon some information that has changed my life forever. It has re-arranged the way I do business. It has, for all intents and purposes, ended my marriage. It has colored and re-colored the way I see everything that has taken place in my life in the past several years.

It has leveled me in the best and worst ways.

For privacy reasons, I cannot share any more than that right now, but I tell you that much because I know my experience is not unique.

I’m sure you can think of a time when you were lied to, or betrayed, or fired without explanation, or forced to let go of something you did not want to lose, or when someone you loved said goodbye to you without your permission. We don’t always get to choose our new beginnings. And because of that, we can understand how beautiful and also devastating a new beginning can be.

A new day, a new year, a new job, a new life, a new relationship, a new start—they all come to us without permission, in the best and worst way. They barge in our front doors with the beautiful promise of second chances and new potential and unexpected opportunity. And they also come with heartbreak, because new beginnings nearly always follow endings.

I love the way Billy Collins puts it in his poem called Aristotle. I could read and re-read these words a hundred times in a day:

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.

—Billy Collins (from Aristotle)

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it exciting to think about what can happen when you’re standing at the beginning of something brand new?

And yet, if new beginnings are so invigorating, why did I talk to more than one friend on the first day of the new year who discussed feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sad, or in some way depressed at the weight of what lay in front of them? The night before we’re lighting off fireworks and holding glasses of champagne and talking about how amazing the new year was going to be—and by the time we woke up in the morning, we sat in our beds, overwhelmed with what a new beginning really meant.

What makes a new beginning so difficult?

One thing that makes it so difficult to start something new is that we don’t really know where to start. Yes, of course the possibilities are endless. They are infinity, in fact. But that is part of what makes it so difficult to know exactly where to begin. Because where should you begin when you can begin anywhere? In the face of all that possibility, all that blank space, it is easy to feel a little intimidated, even a little lonely.

new-beginnings

It makes me think of what it feels like to sit down and start working on a brand new writing project. I could stare at the blinking cursor for hours before a word I deem worthy of being recorded will finally come to me. It is not that I don’t have words. It’s just that none of the words feel as deep and meaningful as I need them to be.

None of them feel like the first line, the first sentence.

And in that space, that excruciating time before anything is on the page, what I feel is anticipation and dread and even worry. Will this be a story worth reading? Will it be “the first word of paradise lost on an empty page?” Or, will it be an extraordinary waste of time, a lousy attempt at expressing myself that never makes sense to anyone—including me?

And I suppose that’s the second reason new beginnings can be a little challenging, because in addition to the fact that there are a million ways we could begin, there are also a million ways the story could end. We do not always get to choose our endings. In fact, most of the time we don’t. We commit ourselves to the process without any guarantee of how things will turn out.

This is the great risk of living our lives: there are so many things we don’t get to choose.

And at the beginning of a new year, or a new relationship, or a new job, or a new season, I think we intuitively recognize this: that no matter how many good intentions we have to lose weight or eat better or be more vulnerable or change that bad habit or pattern, or re-write a part of our story we haven’t loved, that we ultimately are not in charge of every detail, and we are at the mercy of so many things over which we have no control.

It takes a great deal of faith to put in the effort in a world where there are no such thing as a guarantee.

And just like writing, I suppose, there’s a sort of comfort to that messy middle. It would be easier to edit something that was already there—because at least I have something to work with. At least I have something to go from. At least I can read a sentence and say, “no, no, that’s not quite right.” And then I can talk about why it’s not quite right and that helps me get to something that is right, or at least that is more right than the first one was.

In the beginning, it can feel a bit like you don’t have that, like you’re starting over.

A quick word about change.

Change can bring about a lot of anxiety—especially change that we didn’t initiate or ask for. And honestly, even when you’re the one who quit the job or chose to leave the relationship, or decided to go on the trip, when the pieces of your life are shifting around, it’s normal to feel at least a little out of control.

Here’s how Journalist Deborah Ward puts it in her Psychology Today article, Coping with Change.

But it’s not unusual to feel shocked, overwhelmed, anxious and depressed and even fearful [at the beginning]. Even when we know we are about to face something new, the change can be overwhelming and unpredictable. And it’s this sudden lack of control over our personal environment that can lead us to feeling anxious, while the thought that we won’t be able to handle the new situation can bring on feelings of depression.

I hope this brings great comfort to you, especially if you are feeling less than thrilled at the outset of this new year. You’re normal. It’s okay. If, amidst the poppers and the streamers and the confetti and the champagne, you’re feeling less than sure-of-yourself and about what comes next, you’re not alone.

Because the New Year came without your permission, and it will come again next year, regardless of what you do or don’t do. One of the very few things we can count on in this life is changing seasons.

Change is hard—even when it’s really good for us. (Tweet that)

And that’s the second thing that is really great to remember about change, especially when we’re in the middle of it, is that change is good. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s part of life. It’s really good for us. Without change, we stagnate. We don’t grow. We become complacent. We get bored. We do not have the tension and conflict we need to become who we were always meant to be in this life.

Without the possibility of change, even the greatest gifts in our lives lose their luster, because we can take them for granted, knowing they could never go away.

Rebirth and change are necessary to our lives. The clinical definition of death is cessation of change. If one is not changing, one is dying. Any practice or framework that is not curious and novel stands with its feet in concrete, which may be the definition of any form of fundamentalism —Pittman McGehey, The Spiritual Journey from Biography to Autobiography

If you’re in a really hard season right now, the good news is: change is coming. And when change does come, you will leave this hard season with who you’ve become in the midst of it. So do everything you can right now to become the person you want to be when your circumstances get a little better.

And if you’re in a really good season right now, enjoy every minute. Soak it up. Because no season lasts forever.

This is the teetering, delicate beauty of life.

Three things to remember about new beginnings.

There are a few things I think we can remember about new beginnings that can help us manage at least a little of the anxiety.

First remember the feeling you are “starting with nothing” is simply not true. I mentioned at the beginning of this article the idea of staring at a blank page with a blinking cursor, and the truth is, even when I begin to write a new book I do not begin with nothing. I come to the page with invisible libraries of knowledge, experience, research, understanding, essence, personality, and voice.

You are not starting with nothing in this new year. You are starting with YOU—the very most important thing you could have, and all you need to begin.

Remind yourself: I have everything I need to begin. (Tweet that)

And second, while you can acknowledge the feeling like you don’t know where to begin, it might help to remind yourself that nobody knows exactly where to begin when they’re starting somewhere new. It might seem like everyone else in your life has incredible clarity about their purpose and their plan and their intended outcome in this new season, meanwhile you’re floundering around just trying to get off your couch—but that simply is not the case.

I know because I talk to people all the time who are the most confident, accomplished, organized, efficient, productive, happy people I know who admit, when they get really honest, that they do not know for sure exactly where they are going or what they are trying to do. NOBDOY DOES! We are all just doing our best, feeling around in the dark.

Of course, there are ways to gain more clarity. I’ll provide some resources to that effect in the end of this article. But the point is nobody just gets clarity or direction without really fighting for it. Nobody out there magically has more than you have.

You have EVERYTHING you need to begin.

When I start to get myself worked into the “I don’t know where to start” frenzy, I remind myself of a phrase a friend repeated to me at a conference this past year. It has become a mantra for me. It’s technically three phrases linked together, and while it’s been attributed to several different people, as best as I can tell it was first said by a man named Arthur Ashe.

It goes like this:

Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.

This is my life plan. I’m not joking. There might be moments when I have a more elaborate life plan than this, but really, this is the most elaborate life plan I will ever need—and here’s why:

  1. Start where you are. You can’t start anywhere else but where you are. You can try, but you won’t be very successful. You can spend a lot of time wishing you were someone else, so that you could start from where they are starting, but that will just make you feel badly about yourself and will just become time you later regret wasting. The only place to start is where you are. It makes beginning really easy!
  2. Use what you have. You have resources at your fingertips. We all do. And we could spend a long time dwelling on the fact that somebody else has more resources than we do, or better resources, or that our resources are not what we wish they were, but I’ll be honest: the most truly successful people I have known in this life do not waste time complaining that they don’t have more. They simply use what they DO have and get going.
  3. Do what you can. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons we experience so much disappointment in our lives and burn out before we reach our goals is because we expect way too much our ourselves. We have these crazy ideas about what we can accomplish and then we wonder why we feel like such losers when we can’t do it all. Perfect house, killer career, obedient children, loving marriage, fulfilling sex life. Who has that? Anyone you know? I didn’t think so. All you can do is all you can do. Stop beating yourself up for being human. You are not a superhero. Sadly, neither am I.

And finally, one thing I am learning about making progress in life is that there really is no huge rush. Anyone who makes you feel like “time is running out” is trying to get you to do something that benefits them—and that you might not agree to do if you have too much time to think about it. There is no need to be frantic. There’s also is no need to sit around twiddling our thumbs, but life is not a race.

Anytime you feel like you are “running out of time” remind yourself there is no such thing. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Nothing more can be asked of you.

A final word about new beginnings.

There’s a phrase that goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” And in a seasons where there is so much newness for me that it can be a little unsettling, I try to remind myself of that phrase for two reasons.

First of all, because it is a comforting reminder that no matter what happens to me, no matter what I lose or what I gain, what I have left at the end of the day is the person I am becoming. Change is not easy. It is slow and steady and arduous and painful most of the time, but real change—inside change—is lasting.

No matter where you go in life, no matter what you have or don’t have, what can never be taken from you is who you are becoming.

And the second reason I try to keep this close at heart is because it is a reminder not to numb the pain away, or to make decisions outside of my conscience or character, because at the end of the day, while my circumstances are always changing, what stays the same is ME—the version of myself that I get to carry into the newness of tomorrow.

And that one small reminder helps me, even in the unpredictability of life, even in a season of newness and change.

I hope it helps you, too.

Additional Resources:

I honestly can’t think of anyone better to help you clarify what you want and take the steps to get there. I don’t get paid anything for sharing this with you. It’s just a product I really believe can help you.

 

42 comments on “What No One Ever Says About New Beginnings

  1. Thanks Allison. New beginnings are not all bliss; they are often difficult because growth is hard. In this new year, I’m not setting out to do anything extraordinary, just be faithful in the small things. So as New Year rolled around this year, I had this thought, “All the glory of the New Year does not truly speak to faithful living behind the scenes.”

    I have to reorient my mind that to truly grow in nurturing myself and others-it must be behind the scenes in order to be sustainable and truly loving.

    • Thanks for your comment Alyssa. I needed that. “…to truly grow in nurturing myself and others-it must be behind the scenes in order to be sustainable…”

  2. I always enjoy your thoughts and resonate with many of your processes but this! Real and practical and exactly what I needed for today. I jumped on the one work bandwagon (more like God hijacked my scorn of the bandwagon and said, oh yesh?). I read this after journaling about Beyond and what I think it means for my year, what I dream about it. Mostly though, the word beyond is all about what I don’t know and can’t see. This post felt like a jet-pack to a place I cannot begin to ask about or imagine. The best to you this new year Allison!!

  3. Allison,

    Thank you for such an honest assessment of what change can really look like.

    Two years ago I found myself in a similar state. I won’t get into specifics, but from what you allude to, I can say it was similar. Around that time I got an email from Donald Miller inviting me to the Storyline Conference in San Diego. My first reaction was, “hey, that sound like something I should do,” but then reality set in. My internal doubter screamed, “I have a full time job, a wife, and four kids. How can I possibly justify spending that much time and money on myself?”

    I dismissed the idea for a few weeks, but I didn’t throw the email out.

    When I went to look again, I dug into the details and realized the conference was only a mile from my cousin’s house, okay no need for a hotel. Then I looked at flights and found one for only $300 – I live in western NY, so that is a deal. It was at this point I approached my wife and proposed that I go the conference. We looked at the calendar and figured out a way to make it work. She didn’t really understand why I needed to go, but she new I needed something.

    In the weeks before the conference I read Packing Light. I also completed the Storyline workbook.

    My first day at the conference found me (with 400 others) at the Blogger Breakfast, where I asked you a question about the fear of running out of ideas. You assured me that would never happen – on that point you have been completely correct.

    Later in the conference I attended a breakout session you led, where I asked a few other questions and you were both positive and supportive while remaining realistic. I left the conference renewed and emboldened by the experience overall, but your impact on me was at least as strong as everything else – perhaps even more so.

    When I boarded my flight, I immediately purchased in-flight wi-fi, and before I landed at my connection I had set up my blog.

    Less that a week later I published my first post and since then I have written nearly 200,000 words. In October 2015 I published my first book called The Penny Collector.

    Allison – Two years ago I was where you are today and without knowing it, you played a pivotal role in the new beginning I was seeking. Thank You!

    I would like to send you a copy of my book, first as a thank you, but also because I think it might help you with your new beginning. You were there for me, and I would love to return the favor. Just email me your postal address and I’ll send one out directly.

    Happy New Year – may this new beginning be the best one yet.

  4. Allison thank you for writing this article on New beginnings and what is often untold. One of the things I love about your writing is your transparency.whether its sharing all that you bring to the table or something your striving for you leave me ready to accept and embrace change!

  5. I have to admit, I almost shed a tear for you when I read the part about your marriage ending. Praying for you! Thank you for your bravery and commitment to write despite of what’s going on in your personal life. I’ve read your book and your blogs are ALWAYS right on time for me. I’m recently engaged and excited, but also feeling the weight of EVERYTHING. This post was refreshing.

  6. Allison, I am so sorry. Your posts and blogs these past few weeks had me wondering if this was the direction your life – your marriage – was heading…and I am sad that my assumptions were confirmed. Your authenticity and transparency are just two of the reasons your words have always resonated with me after meeting you at Storyline in San Diego. However, your recent words were all too familiar as I have navigated the surprise ending of my marriage this past year.

    Everything you wrote here is spot on.

    You are so brave. And you are so loved. Thank you, as always, for sharing your gift. You inspire me with your words and your life.

  7. Thank you so much for being so open with us, Allison. It could be so easy to go along pretending everything is okay, but you’re not doing that and I admire that. I’m in a midst of what isn’t so much a new beginning, as it is temporary pause-a peroid of time where I dont know what to do with myself. And I think the hardest part of this is admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you don’t have some complicated life plan! So I love what you said-Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. Anyone can do that, even me!

  8. Hi Allison,

    I’m really sorry to hear about your loss. I have read your blog posts for probably a couple of years now and am always very grateful for your clarity of thought and insightful outlook.

    As you said here, it’s never easy when we have change thrust upon us. I went through dramatically poor back health last year, after a temp job I was in also went sour for no reason I could fathom. I’ve also lost a pet last night, so there’s a lot of empathy for you and your situation right now.

    I also wanted to also say thank you and how much I appreciate what you do to get your thoughts out there. You really make a dufference with other people finding guidance and direction from your own journey.

    With bright blessings,

    L

  9. I’m sorry to hear about this — I’ll be thinking of you.

    2015 was certainly not my most shining year, and it’s hard not to dissolve into a pile of whimpering regret with my tail between my legs as we start 2016. This was really helpful. I always appreciate your willingness to share and write through whatever’s going on. It’s something that’s often too intimidating for me, but seeing others do it makes me think that maybe I can, too.

  10. This is a beautiful and encouraging post and your honesty was difficult to share I’m sure. But that’s why I enjoy reading your writing – the honesty connects all of us. I was drawing yesterday and came up with the quote “You are going where you are growing”…feels appropriate for this season of your life. I can’t wait to see what you do with this year!

  11. Thank you for this encouraging post. I was reading it as our moving truck pulled up out front…the beginning of new adventures 3000 miles away. So much of what you wrote resonated deeply!

    I wish you peace and strength as you journey through your own new beginnings.

  12. I empathize. Change is hard but can be for the better. Sometimes you have to get hurt, pruning hurts too. Thanks for this, Allison. Hope things are ok! Praying!

  13. Thank you so much for being so transparent, Allison. It’s one of the things I really value about you and your writing. I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. It sounds incredibly difficult, painful, and discouraging. From what I’ve seen online and what you’ve posted here you are handling things in a really healthy way.

    I really like your line here about, “Anytime you feel like you are ‘running out of time’ remind yourself there is no such thing. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” That resonated with me. Especially around the beginning of a new year I feel like there is so much I need and want to do that I’m not sure how I’m going to do it all. I also feel a sense of guilt that I didn’t get more done in the previous year. But you’re right; there’s no use in thinking that way. The best thing any of us can do is to start today.

    Wishing you all the best this year, Allison.

  14. WOW. I was literally just praying about this exact topic this morning! Thank you for puttin words to my thoughts. This will be a blog post I read over and over again. You are talented and inspiring. Thank you!

  15. Allison, thank you for your honest words, I had a feeling that something like this was happening because you words were exactly what I was thinking, I was told the truth afew months ago and it has been the most challenging time of my life. It certainly changes the way you look at things and it is very scary ! My thoughts are with you and everything you post is an encouragement to me ! Sending hugs xx

  16. How eloquently put. Thinking of you and praying for you in midst of everything. You always have a place to crash in Atlanta if you need to get away!:) xo

  17. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but so thankful you’re willing to share. I’ve always felt my own dating and marriage story mirrored yours in timeline and circumstances (what you’ve shared, at least) and when my marriage ended this past year, I’ve thought of you often. As much as I hate you’re going through this, I’m grateful to have another brave, kindred spirit to look to as she walks through something similar. Onward.

  18. Because of your transparency and the tone of your writing, I feel like I can call you Ally. Like we are a brother and sister sufferer sitting by a fire and with our hands wrapped around mugs of cocoa as we pore over tragedies and triumphs. I am sorry for your pain sister-but I am equally excited about the fruit it will bear for and in you. I pray you’ll grow stronger in the days to come. Thank you for being so open and giving others the permission to do the same as you help them too, ‘find their voices on the path they are least likely to want to go down.’ Be blessed!

  19. This post is very timely for me. The New Year roughly aligned with the six month anniversary of my husband’s unexpected death. I’ve been in survival mode these past six months and now I feel myself emerging again, ready for the new year, a new beginning. Your thoughts on the “messy middle” was helpful– the idea that it’d be easier to edit something that was already there. I’ve started some things in the past six months that I don’t think I want to continue. But now I can see how at least getting something on the page these past six months has helped me narrow what I DO want to do moving forward. I know my situation is different, but I do know the pain of losing a marriage when it’s not your choice. I know the death of the dreams for what you thought would be your future. I am so sorry for this loss in your life. But please know you are already being used powerfully through this experience. You’ve helped at least one person (me) and that’s something. And for the God who will go after one lost sheep, helping one person, one life, is a big something. Thank you for your writing and your transparency. I’ll be reading.

  20. “You are not starting with nothing in this new year. You are starting with YOU—the very most important thing you could have, and all you need to begin.”

    Beautifully said, and just what so many of us need to hear.

    I always get stuck on the question of “will I REALLY be able to sustain this?” when it comes to new beginnings. I’m all for a fresh, clean slate, but I know and fear how much work it takes to slog through the middle to get to the next destination. Argh.

    Thank you for always sharing the wisdom that guides you on your journey, Ally.

  21. As others have indicated, I feared that part of what you were going through involved the end of a marriage, and I devoutly hoped I was mistaken. But I, like others, am touched in multiple ways by what you have shared here. I will come back to these words and read them again with even closer attention as time permits. So many times your words have spoken to me, and this was no exception. May I just express my sincerest condolences for all you have been through and undoubtedly still have ahead – I have followed your story from your days of singleness till now, and will continue to do so. I am glad you have a strong support system, and my heart goes out to you.

  22. Allison,
    Thank you for your honesty and encouragement. I will keep this to read again.
    Praying for you and your journey, You won’t be walking that path alone, we are walking with you.
    Love to you and may God’s many blessings be yours this season.

  23. Thank you for this wonderful post! It goes along so beautifully with my thoughts of late. I have already read and re-read it because I just can’t get enough.

  24. Allison, thank you for sharing this painful new place you find yourself in. You are so very brave and I know many will benefit from what you wrote. A (I feel very similar) “change” happened to me three years ago when I, too, “stumbled upon some information.” That information could have ended my marriage as well, but through my choice, it didn’t. My husband and I worked hard through a very painful first year after, that work continues to this day. Im so grateful because now we are better than we’ve ever been. My heart and prayers are with you – for Gods best for you. May you find new strength as well as healing in the days and weeks to come.

  25. love it! thanks for the alternative perspective on all this new years resolution stuff. it was quite refreshing. qquick question though, you said ” And the second reason I try to keep this close at heart is because it is a reminder not to numb the pain away”, what did “this” reference too? I did read what was before it, but just curious what you were referencing. thanks Alli peace and blessings to you in this season

  26. Excellent thoughts. I have been in the place you speak of—new beginnings that were not chosen. In fact, I’m there now. I told my spouse that the loss of the job is an opportunity for a new adventure. So many things we’ve discussed are articulated beautifully here. May you enjoy your new beginnings!

  27. thankful to have seen this today….I”m at a place of much sadness and anxiety since the beginning of December 2015……and much grief in the lost of many loved ones ……. reading about these “changes” has caught my attention . I am looking forward to read more in the hope doing changes will put me in a different state of hope ..
    blessings to you.

  28. I love this. So helpful and reassuring as I wrestle with the pressure to do something great this year! I love your three step advice: start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. I’m writing that in my journal today. Thanks for writing!!

  29. Ah! I’m so very sorry for your ending. I wondered, based on your writings of the last while, whether something difficult was happening in your life. I found your book/followed you for a couple of years now. I appreciate the thought and personal experiences you bring to your writing. May 2016 be a good year for you, Allison.

  30. This is such an encouraging post, Allison. I’m so sorry for the heartbreak you’re going through right now. You are so right about the one thing we can always count on is the changing of seasons. My mom has an often repeated line she told me many times in my darkest days, “This too shall pass”. It’s absolutely true, but sometimes in the chaos and heaviness of the moment, the future looks endlessly bleak and it’s hard to keep the seasonal perspective. But then you wake up one day and realize you aren’t sad, and you haven’t been sad all week; that the shift towards Spring has begun.

  31. Dear Allison,

    I don’t normally reply or post comments to articles that Ive read maybe because of time or it turns out to be just something of marginally importance but after reading your views on change and all that goes or doesn’t go with change I just wanted to say thank you.

    It was much appreciated and it actually has made me stop and think

    All the best

    Vaughn

  32. Allison, I found this article because it was referred to by Michael Hyatt and I’m so glad I did. You’ve written about change in a way that many don’t and I really appreciate your candidness. New beginnings can certainly be scary and intimidating while still giving us a sense of exhilaration. Every New Year I’m in awe of the ‘what next’, even though that’s probably how I should be every day, now that I think about it. Thank you for sparking a great discussion on this. Wishing you the very best of 2016!

  33. Thanks for this, Allison. I’ve had two major (and unrelated) changes in my life already in 2016 — both of them involving loss. It’s a very strange way to start out a new year. I really appreciate your willingness to share what you can of your experiences here, as well as the insights you’re gaining from them.

  34. I’m really sorry you’re going through a difficult season right now, but rough times do not last forever and you are not alone.

    Thinking about you.

  35. WOAH. This is so good – discovered it through links in your other blog posts. I work with undeclared students at a college, and am excited to share a lot of these principles with them as they begin their journey of discovery. Thanks for sharing!!

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