Starting Over, with Curiosity

Starting Over, with Curiosity

What connotations do the words “starting over” have for you? I realize now that I used to hear them as cringe-worthy, a consequence of failure. Maybe it goes back to school days, when jumping the gun, not getting the right answer, or cutting folded paper on the wrong edge would elicit a serious look accompanied by the dreaded words, “You’ll have to start over.” It sounded bad.

Looking back on some of those experiences now, I recognize that the do-over always benefited from the failed first try. Cutting the folded paper on the wrong edge not only yielded an understanding of how those folds interrelated, it also produced something unexpected and interesting that was an illustration of positive and negative space.

This perspective of valuing missteps comes from having started over many times in many arenas of life since then, sometimes by design, sometimes not. Learning is inevitable, and the expansion of perceived limits. I have discovered that I, and many others whose journeys I am privileged to witness and share, have more capacity to take on and take in new things, including hard ones, than we ever could have been imagined. Barbara Kingsolver says it so beautifully:

“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another – that is surely the basic instinct . . .Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”

A wonderful thing about starting over is that the more you do it, the less stigmatized and intimidating it becomes. Moving through such traumas as divorce or the loss of a home – which also elicit judgment – can both strengthen and soften who you come out as on the other side.

Last year, I ventured into an adjacent realm of work that required quick mastery of several different arenas of skill, some new, along with new software programs. So I knew going in that some ramping up would be required and possibly even (gasp) a fumble here and there. Fifteen years ago, I would have been mortified by this. But this year, I thought, Bring it on. Let me be challenged and learn something new. More than anything, I entered the experience open to what it has to offer, and I brought my curiosity to my new work. The wisdom of Pema Chodron has helped get me here:

“There is a common misunderstanding among the human beings who have ever been born on earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable…A much more interesting, kind and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our curiosity is bitter or sweet.”

It may be the most powerful and freeing advice ever given: to lead with curiosity, even in times of difficulty, even when it is time once again, to start over.

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