Starting over is not the same thing as starting. Starting feels fresh and new and optimistic and exciting.
Starting over is battle wounds and heartbreak and shame. It is an acknowledgement that things didn’t go exactly as planned. But it is also a bold admission of hope, of refusing to give up, of an audacious dreamer getting back on their feet after a particularly bad fall.
That job that laid you off. Those grad schools that rejected you. The marriage that ended. The entrepreneurial venture that went south.
When it comes to starting over, most people – myself included – face two main challenges: getting past what everyone else will think and learning how to be a beginner again. How do you face challenges like these with grace and dignity and dare I suggest, a touch of hope and good humor?
Starting over (or, a brief story about sucking at running).
Last fall I wrote a blog post called 7 things that fearless women do differently. It was all about my first month training for a 5k (i.e. running sluggishly around an outdoor track while toned, tan, and not-nearly-as-short-of-breath-as-my-out-of-shape-ass runners did seemingly effortless laps around me).
After about two months, I was up to jogging/walking 2.5 miles a couple times a week. There were hills involved. My body was not yet toned and my laps far from effortless but dammit I was getting there. (Did I mention that there were hills involved? Hills, I say!)
Then in November I unexpectedly developed blood clots in one lung. (I mean, blood clots aren’t really the type of thing that one “expects” at any point in life but as a relatively healthy twenty-something, I was extra startled at the diagnosis. Thanks a lot, birth control.)
All training for my 5k stopped in its tracks as my lungs struggled to regain even their normal functionality. Getting up and getting breakfast was cause for me to start wheezing. Small tasks tired me out. It was a frustrating and emotional time. But surprisingly, not as frustrating and emotional as this past week.
This past week I started running again and in doing so, discovered three profound truths about starting over.
Profound Truth #1: People don’t actually give a shit about what you’re doing in your life. Period.
I run on a relatively busy residential path. During the course of one run, I will see at least twenty cars and about five to seven other joggers/bikers/dog walkers. And whenever I see one, I stand a little straighter, maybe pick up my pace a bit. I don’t want to be perceived as tired/out of shape/struggling – even though sometimes I am!
The reality is that 0% of these people are paying me any attention. Literally 0%.
You may be thinking, “Um, duh. Of course a bunch of stranger’s aren’t going to care about your stupid fitness level. They don’t know you from Adam’s housecat!” But the truth is, they aren’t not paying attention to me because they are strangers. They are not paying attention to me because they are human and inherently self-interested like the rest of us.
Think about it, how many friends from college or folks you know from back in the day can you recall more than a vague idea of their current job or relationship status or financial situation (or, in my case fitness level)? Outside of your inner circle, probably very few.
Even in the Age of the Facebook Update, most of us aren’t paying close attention to every minute ending and beginning that happens within our social network.
Starting over is scary – in part because we wonder what everyone else is thinking about our choice; our endings, our beginnings – but in reality, “everyone else” is usually a very small number of people who we are close enough to you to know (and care about) every big or small change in your life.
Which brings us to Profound Truth #2…
Profound Truth #2: Judgmental assholes will find some reason to hate on you no matter what you’re doing. Everyone else wants to see you succeed.
So, 90% of the people you know don’t care that you just got fired or ended your relationship or dropped out of grad school or didn’t get in in the first place or can’t jog up an entire hill without looking like you’re going to pass out. (Just me? Oh, ok.)
Most people you know expressed mild curiosity before turning their attention back to whatever Beyoncé song they were listening to before the subject came up.
But what about the people who actually do care, particularly the ones who are taking about you behind your back? What about those folks who you know – because they have told you or otherwise implied – are judging you?
The good and bad news is, they would likely find some way to judge you even if your life was all rainbows and daisies and world travel and job promotions. Some people are unhappy and insecure. Their unhappiness and insecurities are not your problem, even when they are manifested as judgment/backstabbing/cattiness that impacts your life.
And those other folks? The ones who’s wanting-to-see-you-succeed feels a lot like judgment (i.e. overprotective parents or mentors)? Talk to them. For some, confidently explaining your plans or motivations might calm a nerve. For others, actions and results may be the only reassurance that your recent ending and beginning are not OMG-the-worst-thing-ever-in-the-world-ever.
At the end of the day, however, it is your life to live, your truth to speak or to squander.
Which brings us nicely to Profound Truth #3…
Profound Truth #3: No one is going to understand you/your plight/your struggle. Get over it.
Remember when you were thirteen and you felt like no one understood you? Oh how right you were, young grasshopper.
If you are blessed enough to have awesome people in your life, they have the ability to feel a plethora of emotions on your behalf: excitement, pride, anger, love, fear. But 150% complete understanding? Not so much.
No one else on this earth has been through EXACTLY what you’ve been through from birth to this exact moment. That means they may look at your situation and have a completely different perception than you do.
Usually this is a good thing. (Aren’t you glad that your best friend talked you out of sending that drunken text message that one time?) But sometimes, when you know from the bottom of your soul, that this choice is the right choice, you need to realize in advance that not everyone is going to understand. And that’s ok.
In conclusion: Starting over sucks but thank you baby Jesus, it is temporary.
Starting over is not like starting. It is harder and more humbling. But it is also braver. More freeing. More fierce.
And most importantly, it is temporary. You will not be a beginner forever. Through the sheer passage of time, the simplicity and starting and not stopping, the beginning of your journey will have passed and the nitty-gritty of everyday doing will have appeared. Your new circumstances will become yesterday’s news, the novelty having long since worn off.
Starting over is not like starting. It is harder and more humbling. But there is magic there.
Have you ever had to start over before? Better question (because let’s be honest, we’ve ALL had to move on to Plan B at least once in our lives): How did you deal? What did you learn?