I’ll never forget the time during one of my first yoga classes when I was paying so much attention to what the graceful woman in front of me was doing that I lost control of my own pose and fell flat on my face. And you guys, if that isn’t the ultimate metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.
We learned it in elementary school but clearly we need a refresher: keep your eyes on your own paper.
Because guess what? No matter what you want to do, there are people out there who are already doing it. And that’s fine. There are people out there who are already amazing at it, and that’s fine too. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Success isn’t like cake – there’s no such thing as someone grabbing the very last piece.
So, okay, maybe you want to do something or change something but you aren’t very good at it yet. I get it, I’ve been there. That’s how running was for me at the beginning – and it’s also how I felt when I first started working for myself and when I first quit drinking and when I was first struggling to switch to a healthier diet. During each of those things there was a period of time when I just stared jealously at what other runners, business owners, and healthy eaters were doing and constantly felt frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t at their level. Which means that I know exactly what it’s like to want something really badly and to struggle with the fact that it seems like everyone else already has it nailed and that you’re somehow “not good enough” because you can’t quite figure it out for yourself.
So first of all, if you’re feeling that way, you aren’t alone. That’s the first thing to know. The second thing to know is that it’s okay to be a beginner! It’s okay to be new to something, to be terrible at something, and to have no fucking clue what to do next. One of the most damaging myths in our culture is the one about overnight success. Maybe it happens in .000001% of cases, but I don’t know a single person who has changed her life or built a business or landed a dream job or completed a race who didn’t spend a large chunk of time with her brain going like this: ldfkgjkjghdkgjd?!?!!?!
Change is hard, you guys! Doing something new is really scary, and yet we make it even worse for ourselves when we constantly compare ourselves to other people. When I first started running, before I could even run one mile, I remember a particularly dark week where I was looking at all the marathoners out there and thinking, “What’s the point? If I can’t even run a mile, why am I even bothering with this?”
But look, it doesn’t matter what other people are doing, because no matter how great or terrible someone else is as at something, the only thing you need to do is start where you are right now. That’s it. Just start where you are. And in order to do that, it’s time to get real with yourself about where you are in the first place.
Let me give you an example.
The other day, my mind started wandering to what I might want to do as a runner after next year’s run across America. I have no idea how I’ll feel at that point, but I keep coming back to how much I’d love to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So, who knows, maybe that will be the goal I turn to after next year, and if I do I’ve got some serious work cut out for me because the qualifying time for my age group is 3:35 and my best marathon time is a 4:03. That’s a big time gap. But if I do decide to go for it, to begin chipping away at that finishing time, the only way I’ll have a chance at succeeding is if I’m honest with myself about where I’m starting from. I can’t pretend that I’m able to run those faster paces right now. I can’t pretend that I’m going to get there in just a few months. I can’t fixate on how fast other runners are. I’ll have to just take a truthful look at where I’m at when the time comes, and then go one step at a time from there.
And the same is true for you in whatever you want to do in your own life. You have to start exactly where you are. If you want to write a book and are faced with nothing but the blank page, you need to start with a single sentence. If you want to change your diet, you need to get real with yourself about 1) what you’re actually eating and 2) what you are and are not willing to change right now. It’s useless to tell yourself that “starting tomorrow, you’ll never eat sugar again” if that’s not really the case. (And, c’mon, is that ever the case??) So regardless of where you eventually want to be and no matter how big your dreams are, it’s time to stop setting the bar for your next step at such a crazy, unrealistic level. Just start where you are.
If you can only do five squats, do five squats – knowing that the path to 10 squats and 25 squats and 50 squats absolutely must start with those first five. You can waste hundreds of hours jealously watching other people do hundreds of squats, but obsessing over the fact that there are other people who are stronger than you isn’t going to make you any stronger. Even if you watch someone else do perfect squats for hundreds of hours, you’ll still have to come back and start where you are with those first five of your own, so you might as well get started already.
Same goes for everything else. If you only know how to cook one healthy meal, cook that meal. If you can’t figure out how to set up a fancy website, start with a simple blog. If you only have 10 free minutes per day to learn to knit, put your ass in the chair for those 10 minutes and knit knit knit. Because I promise – and I mean truly, truly promise – that the only way to get where you want to be is to start where you are.
So, here’s what I want you to do. Right now, step back and take an honest and judgement-free evaluation of where you are. Not where you wish you were – where you actually are – and then commit to starting from there.
Some days, I think back to that particularly dark week at the beginning of my running journey when I couldn’t come close to running one mile and I marvel at how different my life would be if I had quit because “other people were so much faster and better than me.” That was a real possibility back then, but I’m so grateful that I stuck with it. I’m grateful that I gave myself the training wheels I needed to realistically start from the ground up, because that’s the only way I’ve been able to make consistent progress. And it’s funny, because when you’re in the terrifying period of being a beginner you don’t have a clue how far you can go. I realized that again this week, when I was on the phone with my best friend and I made an off-hand comment about how this was a light training week for me, and that I’d “only be running about 40 miles.” REMEMBER WHEN I COULDN’T RUN ONE MILE? And now a 40-mile week is a light week.
So, look, forget what everyone else is doing, okay? If you’re a beginner, be a beginner. If you’ve been unsuccessful in the past, forget about it. The only thing that makes the struggles of your past a part of your current reality is the fact that you won’t shut up about it. So shut up about it! Who cares about the past? Who cares what other people are doing? Just start where you are, right now, and go from there.
SERIOUSLY, ONE SALAD IS BETTER THAN ZERO SALADS.
ONE BLOG POST IS BETTER THAN ZERO BLOG POSTS.
ONE PUSH-UP IS BETTER THAN ZERO PUSH-UPS.
START WHERE YOU ARE.