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A Better Beginning

The New Year is on us at last! 2020 is in the rearview:  finally. And it is time to think about what 2021 will look like.

It’s time for Vision boards, Resolutions, Bucket Lists, One Words!  You name it, I’m in.

I’m a big dreamer and the New Year is the Grandpappy of all the times for dreaming new dreams. Filling out new planners and making lists of all the things I want to do and ways I want to be better gets me excited.  Do you belong to this club??

If I have already made you tired, I’m sorry.  (Wink.) I know not everyone feels this way about the New Year (Mr. Perfect being one of those folks) -perhaps especially about this particular New Year. Although I don’t think anyone is sorry to see the end of 2020, you may NOT be feeling as positive about 2021 as in the past.

But hopefully most of us see this turn-over to be a light at the end of a very long tunnel.

So perhaps, even if you aren’t a big list-maker or resolution-creator, you have been giving a little thought to how 2021 might look for you.

We love the idea of possibility as yet unrealized.

Look at all that glorious potential!

Love it or not, January 1st is a New Beginning. And New Beginnings are typically looked at with hope and expectancy. So I’m going to presume you are on board with me if you are still reading. 🙂

Most people love the idea of  weddings, new babies, first days of school, moving into a new house, starting a new job.

We love the idea of possibility as yet unrealized. Look at all that glorious potential!

That’s why we make New Year’s Resolutions in the first place: the untapped potential of the new year makes us hopeful for what is possible. With our health, our goals, our relationships.

The hiccup in this glorious dream-fest is that pesky thing called Reality. When we think of the future we see the end result: the sculpted abs, the money in the bank, mastery of the new skill.

The part we skip over is the reality of being a BEGINNER.

“New beginnings are usually welcome.

But being a beginner? Not so much.”

-The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

Emily P. Freeman, in her amazing book The Next Right Thing says: ‘We want our circumstances to change, to start again, to be brand-new. But when they change, we often don’t give ourselves permission to be new within them. Instead, we want to rush ahead to mastery.’

While it is fun to dream about the potential of the future us, we have to begin that future reality right here in the present. That doesn’t sit too well with our egos, which want to believe we are quite capable and self-sufficient just as we are, thank-you-very-much.

This is that moment when we are reminded of how awkward we feel in the gym. How much we really like buying a daily latte instead of saving that $5. How much time, trial & error is actually required to learn how to speak Spanish, bake a souffle, grow a herb garden.

While it is fun to dream about the potential of the future us,

we have to begin that future reality right here in the present.

Or learn how to swim.

Last year I decided it was time for me to learn how to swim. ‘Real’ swimming, not doggy-paddling or underwater-swim.  ‘Real’ swimming actually scared me a little. I tend to spend more time choking up water than moving forward in the water.

But I decided swimming would be a great exercise for me, and partly because it scared me, I wanted to learn how.

Step one, finding someone to teach me. I was pretty sure YouTube wasn’t the way to go with this, and I was unwilling to take lessons with 8 year-olds.  So I did some research and found the U.S. Masters Swimming organization which has programs specifically to teach adults to swim.  Nice, right?!

My instructor, Jeff,  was super encouraging, and I still felt like an idiot learning to stand up in the shallowest end of the pool. You read that right, STAND UP. Go from horizontally swimming to STANDING. (Insert eye-roll here.) This is apparently to keep novices from drowning (and is actually helpful. But still).

And I had no idea so many adults, many of them much older than myself, moonlighted as fish!

And that wasn’t the worst moment. 

I would drive up to our own community pool and sit in my car with crossed fingers & toes asking God to please, please, please let there be a lane open at the end of the pool where I could touch. Because I wasn’t able to swim the whole length of the pool and was too nervous to swim in a deeper lane.

(Still not the worst moment.)

So I would get a shallow lane. (Yay!) And I would kick off of the side. And I would make it half way across  the pool,  get a mouth full of water and have to stand up and choke.

HERE’S the worst moment.

So I’m choking in the middle of one of the shallowest lanes of the pool.

And I am simultaneously hoping the lifeguard (who was probably no older than 17) didn’t really think I needed saving AND that the 35 other very competent adults in the pool (who are all doing things like butterfly strokes and 55 laps without stopping) aren’t looking at me and silently laughing.  Without choking, obviously.

Including the sweet little old man who is walking back and forth in a lane for his daily exercise. Sheesh.

Beginnersitis: ‘frustration at my (lack of) progress,

temptation to give up, and a desire to skip the hard part

and be magically transported to the stage

when I can experience the fruits of my labor’.

Now I would like to tell you that this story ends with me becoming an amazing swimmer. But…COVID. So I will have to start back near the beginning when I go back to the pool. Hurray. Thanks, quarantine.

But I share this to let you know that YES. It is a universal phenomenon. Being a Beginner can feel really sucky.  (And to make you laugh. Because it IS funny. In hindsight. A little.)

Hannah Braime, writing on Puttylike, defines it like this:

Beginnersitis: ‘frustration at my (lack of) progress, temptation to give up, and a desire to skip the hard part and be magically transported to the stage when I can experience the fruits of my labor’.

And there, dear reader, is one reason why the New Year’s Resolution gets such a bad rap.

So how do we overcome Beginnersitis so that we can realize our Resolutions and our goals?

You already know many of the ways to make resolutions successful: Schedule them ahead of time. Find an accountability partner. Reward yourself. Document your progress. Choose SMART goals.

You can learn new things at any time in your life

if you’re willing to be a beginner. 

If you actually learn to like being a beginner,

the whole world opens up to you.

-Barbara Sher

I would like to propose a few more ideas.

  • Your brain believes what you tell it.

I’m not suggesting you keep telling yourself how amazing you are at your new thing—because when you start a new thing you are usually the opposite of amazing.


Tell yourself you have what it takes to figure it out. When the discouragement and doubt show up to the party, say hi but don’t give them a chair and serve them dessert.

Which leads me to…

  • Embrace the power of YET.

So you aren’t good at surfing, gingerbread-house-architecture, juggling.

Now add YET to the end of every sentence. I’m not great at this, YET. I haven’t figured this out, YET.

YET is a gorgeous, powerful word.  YET gets a chair at the table, a dessert AND a party favor.

  • Start again. And then again. And then again.

Will you trip up? Are you going to miss some days and eat a whole carton of ice cream? Yep. Because even if you are an amazing specimen of productivity-there is LIFE.  So toss out the need to do it perfectly right now, before you even get started.

James Clear talks about casting votes for the kind of person you want to become in his book Atomic Habits.  Every choice is a vote. But you don’t need a 100% unanimous vote to be a winner. You need a majority. So don’t expect yourself to be perfect–allow some grace for your humanity. And just keep trying to cast one more vote for the person you want to be this week than you did last week.

(Also, listen to this song from Trolls. It will help.)

So here’s to 2021! May it be the year that you do the thing that has been on your list since 2018. (Mine = Read War & Peace. This is the year!)

There is joy to be found in learning to be a beginner again and again. 

You can do this. Remind yourself over and over!

And if you need someone else to remind you, sign up for my newsletter or email me at 

I will remind you, too.

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