“Start over. Today. Right this minute.”
This message has been consistent in readings, podcasts, audiobooks and stories that have been moving in and out of my life for the past 12 months. I will come clean up front and tell you that I honestly didn’t think it applied to me. I would listen to the stories, the podcast and read the writings and think “OK, I get it. It’s great that ‘they’ could start over and change their life but I can’t because of…” and make up some excuse to explain it all away.
It amazes me how many times you have to hear a story and in how many different ways you have to be presented an idea before the message starts to penetrate your underlying thoughts, patterns and beliefs.
I finally get it. Like a 2×4 hitting me between the eyes … I get it! These words found their way onto the page today because the lesson finally got through to me.
If the whole is the sum of its parts – the whole of our life is the sum of the tiny decisions and seemingly non-decisions that we make hundreds of times a day. Every action, thought or belief I hold is shaping my life. Everything from, pressing the snooze button this morning or jumping out of bed when the alarm went off to coming through the door at the end of workday, weary and tired, and choosing to numb out or engage with my children and husband. It’s in these moments we create our lives.
I wonder now each day, did the ones that mean the most to me get the best of me today? Did everyone, or perhaps anyone, I crossed paths with get the best of Erin today? This has been moving in and out of my conscious thoughts for the past few weeks and today I felt the uncontrollable urge to write these words. Not every day, do the people who matter most, get the best of me. And by best, I mean the most authentic parts of me. The parts that are patient, kind, understanding and loving. The parts that are helpful without the expectation of receiving back, open without judgement and present to honour another soul. I’m here today to say that the people who mean the most to me and the work that matters the most to me often does not get the best of me. They only get a part me.
Having a more connected life, doesn’t mean new or more friends. It means being present for the ones I have that matter the most.
Have a slower life, doesn’t mean I move to a secluded island or remote farm. It means making decisions about how and where I spend my time and ultimately how busy I keep myself.
I get to choose. I can start over any time, any day.
A Story On Starting Over
I had to meet with my daughter’s teachers today and as I was leaving the appointment they quickly called out and said “Wait Erin, we need you to take something that Olivia brought to school today home with you”. When I looked back it was a painted portrait of my five-year-old self. It was painted in a gold pan by an artist completed when I lived in Alaska as a child. Holding that portrait, as I walked to my car, I couldn’t help but thinking of the decisions my parents made when I was a child.
The decision my parents made when I was two years old – to move our entire family to a remote Alaskan village with the only way in and out by air or river. And the decision again, seven years later when they moved us back your small farming community in northern Alberta, leaving behind the only life us kids have ever known for something totally foreign and different to us. Northern Alberta was home to my parents, certainly not to us kids. These were moments where my parents were brave and strong enough to say “I choose to start over. Today. Right now.” Believe me there have been many more of these ‘start over’ moments but those will have to wait.
I tell you the story because I can see now from the perspective of my parents. I have a deep empathy for the decisions they were faced with during these times. These were not easy decisions. My husband and I have had many conversations about moving our family and always get hung up on things like – what will the impact on the children be? How difficult it will be to sell our house and pack everything up? Do we want to learn to live in a foreign country? New schools and grocery stores? A new set of friends? All of these things stop me in my tracks, they paralyze me. Until today.
Reasons or Excuses?
Today, reflecting upon the story of my parents and their decisions during my childhood, then on my own decisions with my own family and then all of the messages I’ve been hearing lately about choosing your life it suddenly became clear. All of those things that we disguise as worry when we face changing our lives are more likely to be our convenient excuses for covering up the truth.
They’re not reasons why we should or shouldn’t do something. We use these ‘reasons‘ to explain away our decision because it is easier than being honest with ourselves and our families with our friends. It’s easier to say we can’t move because the kids are an age where their friends are important than it is to say I’m afraid to move, and we’ll figure it out. Excuses are easier to swallow than facing the reality that maybe we don’t really want to change our lives, or we that we might not know how. It’s easier to make a convenient excuse to explain away the truth than it is to actually say the truth. I find this so interesting, and so perplexing.
I tell you the story because the fabric of our lives and the reality of our everyday is formed one day at a time, one decision at that time, one moment at that time. The reality we live in – each of us individually and collectively – is the result of many decisions woven together overtime.
It helps me to think of my life in this way when I think about making drastic changes in my life like getting healthy, changing careers or trying something new. I overwhelm myself by thinking too “big picture” and trying to bring the end result in all it’s fine detail into focus. When all I really have to do is take the first step. All I have to do is get out of bed when the alarm goes off every morning and exercise – do something. Some form of movement. I don’t have to think about doing it for three months and getting it “right” – whatever that is – and I don’t have to think about all of the times that I’ve tried and failed in the past. Just think about today and the decision before me in this very moment. After all the decision before me in any given moment is the only one I have control over.
If you read my post about what I learned in 2016 you’ll know that learning to change the things I can was one of my most profound learnings from the past year. About those decisions that my parents made so many years ago – three decades later our small Alberta a farm is home to me. Those decisions my parents made so many years ago were in the best interest of our family because the decisions were in the best interests of my parents.
Your ‘start over’ doesn’t need to be big and it doesn’t need to be flashy. It can be small, seemingly insignificant and yet have the most profound effect on your day-to-day life. The work I’ve been doing to learn how to show up as my full authentic self, to ask for what I need, to fill all the space I can often doesn’t feel big or flashy, some days I don’t even know if I’m remembering to do the work. “Start over” will look different for everyone, it’s supposed too, for how could it look the same when no two people are alike?
Today, walking out of that school, carrying the portrait of my 5-year-old self, thinking about my parents and my own life I realize how far I’ve come. How all of those little tiny barely noticeable decisions have got me right where I am today. I am excited for the future. It energizes me to know that I am capable of great change by making small changes over and over again. It gives me hope that I CAN build a life I want to live. I know I WILL create the life I want for my family, one that we will grow and flourish in.
And it leaves me excited and hopeful for your future. I am more motivated and inspired to keep doing the work that I’m doing in the world for even if I only ever touch a few lives it will be enough and it will matter. You are in complete control of your next decision.
What will it be?
“Start over. Today. Right this minute.”
I write these articles to support leaders in becoming more effective by embracing all parts of themselves and increasing their capacity to practice empathy.
Thank you for being here.