(Justina Chen Headley)
Happy New Year! Don’t you love New Year’s? I love its promise of new beginnings and its hint of things that have never been. Of course, every day marks a new beginning, but they pass so closely together that we soon forget their promise, take them for granted, or settle for the familiar. But New Year’s days are spaced far enough apart to grab our attention. If they don’t jar us into action, they at least tug at our sleeves, reminding us of what we can become.
But why don’t more of us heed the call of the New Year by planning and doing what’s necessary to make this year of our lives more exciting than the previous one? One reason may be the pain of letting go of our old, familiar way of living, even when it’s not working. Carrie Underwood shares that feeling with us:
I guess it’s going to have to hurt,
I guess I’m going to have to cry,
And let go of some things I’ve loved to get to the other side
I guess it’s going to break me down,
Like fallin’ when you try to fly,
Sad but sometimes moving on with the rest of your life starts with goodbye.
As Justina Chen Headley wrote, “You raze the old to raise the new.” That is, we have to tear down our old bad habits —the ones that are holding us back— and build new positive patterns that will allow us to experience all that life and our potential has to offer.
But to many, that sounds like hard work. Yet, it appears that way only when we look at it in the wrong way. What is the right way? Simply this: it is not hard work that awaits those with the courage, conviction and commitment to change, but a grand adventure, a journey that invites us to discover our power and the magnificence of life. How can we say no to such an invitation?
Where do we start? We begin by doing what we can with what we have, where we are. And we approach our adventure with curiosity and anticipation. Whenever we set off on a new path, we are a beginner, which is liberating because beginners are free to make mistakes, stumble, and fall. That’s all part of the learning process; that’s all part of the fun. And as we fall and pick ourselves up, we grow stronger and more knowledgeable.
Stepping Stones to New Beginnings
1. Before beginning your journey of new beginnings, pause to think about where you are and the accomplishments you have already achieved. You see, the purpose of your trip isn’t to escape a mediocre life, for your life was never mediocre, although your ‘eyesight’ may have been. You may have failed to notice how extraordinary your life is. So, start your trip on the right foot by appreciating where you are right now. For if you don’t appreciate the present, what makes you think you’ll appreciate the future?
2. The biggest hurdle to success is not failure to start new projects or set new goals, but failure to complete what we start. So, commit to following through on all your actions, and keep in mind these words of Buddha: “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth… not going all the way, and not starting.”
3. The danger we face is not in ruining our lives but in wasting them. But there is good news. Arnold Bennett explains: “The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.” The magic of time is that it always gives us one more chance.
4. Have faith. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dream. Believe in your right to succeed. Ordinary talent will do if you possess extraordinary faith. If you lose faith and fall into despair, remember the words of Edmund Burke (1729~1797), “Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.” That is, if you get discouraged, just keep going. For victory depends not on how you feel, but on what you do. As long as you continue, you will eventually arrive at your destination. It isn’t sunny every day. Occasionally, the clouds of doubt will darken the sky. But hasn’t the sun always returned? As long as you remember that, you will be able to continue. What is there that you can do without faith? Isn’t it true that the first step taken in every noble endeavor is a leap of faith? So, develop your inner strength just as you develop your physical strength, with daily workouts. Use self-discipline to challenge yourself every day.
5. Patience and persistence. People give up too early because they lack patience. As we grow older, we’ll naturally acquire it, but we’ll also have less time to use it, so don’t wait to become patient; be patient now! Learn to accept and expect ‘failure.’ Edison’s thousands of unsuccessful attempts to create the incandescent bulb were not failures, but results. They were valuable lessons; he was learning what material wouldn’t work and why, so he kept moving on until he found the right one.
Anyone can take advantage of the power of persistence. You don’t need money, power, or connections. All you have to do is refuse to give up. Do you realize that if you were to walk vigorously, three hours a day, you will circle the globe in seven years? Just as gentle raindrops erode the hardest rock over time, so too will your repeated efforts end in success. The lesson is clear, the only failure we need fear is the failure to persist until victory is ours.
6. Wisdom. “If you have wisdom, what do you lack? If you lack wisdom, what do you have?” That is a valuable lesson taken from the rabbinical teachings known as the Midrash. It recognizes that to have wisdom is to have everything; to lack wisdom is to have nothing of value. The wise rejoice for what they have while the unwise mourn for what they lack. Fools complain about what they are while the wise rejoice in what they can become. Wisdom is the choice to plan our life and live our plan.
The wise understand that beginnings have no value unless they are followed by endings. For as John Keats wrote in a letter in 1817, “There is an old saying ‘well begun is half done’ - I would use instead - Not begun at all until half done.” The Chinese highlight the point even more by saying, “Ninety miles is but halfway in a journey of a hundred miles.” The wise are always willing to pay the price to succeed. They are willing to make the effort. Consider for a moment a pregnant woman. She doesn’t give birth to a baby to experience labor; she experiences labor to give birth to a baby. She cheerfully accepts the temporary nuisance of pregnancy and the pain of delivery because of the years of happiness that will follow. The new beginnings that you are undertaking are something you will give birth to. Like an expectant mother, cheerfully make the effort because of the joy that will follow your success.
Finally, the wise realize the world is a library and each person is a book. They read people carefully. By studying them, they learn what mistakes to avoid and what actions to follow. Wise or otherwise, we need to monitor our progress. For progress is not only about new beginnings and endings, but also about sustaining our past successes. No point in advancing in some areas as we fall behind in others. When we face difficulties, we can escape them by running away or plunging ahead. It is at these moments that we choose between fear and courage, faith and doubt, and growing or withering. The source of a vehicle’s progress is the friction its wheels have with the ground. So it is with us, it’s our efforts that move us forward. Let’s hope that when we realize we are not yet what we can be, we will make the effort to start a new beginning and follow through to a new ending.
7. Beware: emotions make good servants but bad masters. Love and compassion can propel us forward, but envy, resentment, and anger can bog us down. So, be aware of your feelings and think before you act. When an emotion bubbles up to the surface, ask, “Is this emotion helping me to become better?” If it is, use it as motivation for growth. But if it isn’t, ask, “How can I change this negative feeling into positive energy?” When we look for solutions, we will find them.
8. If we wish to improve, we have to distinguish between assertions and assessments. Assertions are statements of fact. For example, Tom is five feet eleven inches tall, Mary weighs one hundred thirty-five pounds, or Mario is an immigrant from Italy. However, the statements, “Tom is stupid,” “Mary is lazy,” or “Mario is narrow-minded,” are assessments. They are conclusions. More accurately, they are opinions. Also, more than likely, they are opinions based are false assumptions, misunderstandings, and prejudices.
If I say, “Tom is stupid,” I am effectively saying, “There is nothing I can learn from Tom.” That is a serious error since everyone can teach us something. So, when I base decisions on negative assessments, I am closing the door to opportunity and personal growth. Consider this, when I say that Mario is narrow-minded, the only thing I prove is that I am narrow-minded! Instead of looking for faults in others, I should look for traits I admire. Then, I should emulate them. By becoming like those I admire, I will come to admire myself.
I often hear people commenting on the perceived weaknesses of others. Examples of such comments are “Betty is always trying to change others.” and “Why is Richard always criticizing others?” If I were to say that, wouldn’t I be guilty of the very things that I complain about? That is, my comments would reveal that I want to change Betty and I am criticizing Richard. Such comments are wasted energy. What do we accomplish by uttering them?” The answer is nothing. Yet, if we used that energy by directing the comments at ourselves, we could begin to make genuine progress. Discontent can be a valuable tool, but when we direct our dissatisfaction at others, it is misdirected. When, however, we direct it at ourselves, miracles can happen. After all, it is only at the moment we are dissatisfied with what we are that we can begin to become what we are not.
9. If we wish to improve but cannot think of a place to begin, all we have to do is list the things we do not like about others. For what we do not like in others tells us what we do not like in ourselves. We see what we feel. If I feel good, I see goodness. If I feel lousy, I see a miserable world. So, the world is a mirror. If all I see is good, — guess what? — I’m good. But if all I see are mean, nasty people… Well, I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.
If I still can’t find ways to improve, I might want to question my motives and desires. I may convince myself that I don’t need improving because I’m already doing many good deeds. But if I am doing so, what are my motives? Is it because of compassion? Or am I driven by self-aggrandizement? If I wish to get married, is it because of a wish to help create a better world? Or is it because I wish to have a servant who will cater to my every whim?
10. “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” (Maria Robinson)
11. Allgreat things start from small beginnings, so don’t let the size of your dream overwhelm you. Don’t underestimate the power of small steps, for as the Syrians say, “A little spark can kindle a great fire.” Daily baby steps are all that are needed.
12. Someone once said, “More powerful than the will to win is the courage to begin.” So, don’t let the discomfort of stepping out of your comfort zone stop you. For as Joseph Campbell (1904~1987) wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Also consider these words by Sarah Ban Breathnach, “Begin today. Declare out loud to the universe that you are willing to let go of struggle and eager to learn through joy.” To hammer home the importance of starting on your journey of new beginnings now, here’s a quote by Mike Dooley, “The secret to living the life of your dreams is to start living the life of your dreams today, in every little way you possibly can.”
13. Don’t worry about difficulties you may encounter along the way. After all, you can always change your mind and try something else.
14. Every beginning has a consequence. Decide whether it’s the consequence you want before you begin.
15. Measure your success by asking “Have I done something for the first time today?” If you have, you have learned something new, ventured into unfamiliar territory, and discovered your own power.
16. “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” (Nido Qubein)
17. You don’t always have to know where you are headed; you just have to know you want to go. For those who are accustomed to logical thinking, this may sound counterintuitive. They may argue, “Shouldn’t we decide where we wish to go before leaving? Otherwise, how will we know when we arrive?” Although they are not against logical thinking, adventurers also think with their hearts. When early explorers sailed the seven seas, those who remained behind thought how foolish they were to leave for unknown parts, where great danger may lurk. But the explorers knew exactly where they were headed; they were headed for adventure and discovery. You see, their destination wasn’t a place, it was an adventure. Yes, they took risks, but they lived exciting lives. Think about how this principle may apply to you.
18. “Long-term planning is not about making long-term decisions; it is about understanding the future consequences of today’s decisions. (Gary Ryan Blair)
19. “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.” (Bruce Springsteen)
20. Even the best of plans can end in disaster. Or perhaps a natural calamity may strike and leave you feeling powerless. But it is precisely at the worst of times when we need to embark on a new beginning. Here’s how Eileen Caddy expressed this idea: “When you feel that you have reached the end and that you cannot go one step further, when life seems to be drained of all purpose; what a wonderful opportunity to start all over again, to turn over a new page.”
21. An indirect route and a great way to improve ourselves is by helping others. What better way to learn than by teaching others? What better way to grow in power than by empowering others? What greater way of increasing our income than by helping others increase theirs? Finally, what greater use can we make of our incredible gift of awareness than by using it to improve ourselves?
22. Mary Kay Ash once said,“There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.” So, which one are you planning to be?
23. Finally, Jonathan H. Ellerby shares this good advice, “Don’t look further for answers: be the solution. You were born with everything you need to know. Make a promise to stop getting in the way of the blessing that you are. Take a deep breath, remember to have fun, and begin.” All it takes is a few baby steps each day, so what are we waiting for?
TAKE THE STAIRS: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success by Rory Vaden
MAKE MIRACLES IN FORTY DAYS: Turning What You Have into What You Want by Melody Beattie
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