I’m at a dead end. I’m almost 40 years old. I’ve wasted my life.
Yeah, but now you got a chance to start over. You know? Phil, remember when we were kids? And we’d be playing ball and
the ball would get stuck up in a tree? And we’d yell “Do over!” Huh?
Your life is a “do over”. You got a clean slate.
From the movie City Slickers, 1991
I talk with my sister most weekends. She’s in Tulsa, I’m in Santa Fe. Our weekly consults started as our own private book group. Hey! Let’s both read a book and talk about it together. Because why wouldn’t I do that kind of thinking and exploring with my own sister instead of a group of strangers??? We read some good ones and wrangled over philosophy, food and what gleanings felt relevant to our lives. But when Covid hit, we were both sucked into a frenzy of work situations trying to deal with it – she in healthcare, me in travel. Our weekend talks became more a lifeline about coping than explorations in ideas and interests. I don’t regret losing the books. Too much to take in right now anyway. And the idea of one more thing that “must be done” probably would have sent me screaming into the hinterlands. I’ve enough on my plate these days.
But I cannot tell you the number of hearty laughing sessions and insight that have come out of those talks. My sister has been a lifeline of sanity, good cheer and good advice. I tell her all my crazy thoughts. She tells me of her ups and downs. We agree that it’s all pretty challenging but that it’s worthwhile to do our best.
Most recently, I shared a funny thought that came to mind. Scrolling on social media, I occasionally come across adds for Masterclass. You know: Annie Liebovitz teaches photography. Steve Martin teaches comedy. Martin Scorcese teaches filmmaking. Margaret Atwood teaches writing. Learn from the very best… I laughed and told her I’d heard an echo in my head. Masterclass: Suzie Briddsang teaches starting over.
I’m finally able to broach the topic, unwilling as I’ve been for months: What if things don’t go back to the way they were? What if travel doesn’t resume in a reasonable amount of time? Or if it does but is so altered that my heart-and-soul endeavor of the last three years (Rowan Tree Travel) has to fold?
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
My sister’s response, echoing that in my own mind: first a shrug, then “Well, then you’ll start over. You’ve done it before. Many times, in fact.”
Me: “So many times that I should teach a Masterclass!”
We laughed the kind of laugh you can only share with someone who knows you well, knows your history, and “gets you” as well as anyone outside your own mind could.
“Seriously”, she said, looking suddenly (yes, you know it’s coming) very serious. “Think how many people are going to need to start over after this. Some in big ways, with businesses gone and family lost to them. Others in just facing a different, post-pandemic reality. I think your perspective on starting over could be really useful.”
I laughed again and offered up another silly quip about my masterclass in starting over. We moved on to other topics. First vaccination in our family received! Things are settling in at the house now that parental move, kitchen renovation and massive unpacking and purging has (mostly) been done! A rundown on Covid status related to friends and family (some contractions, multiple mild cases, one death in the extended network). What we’ll be up to for the rest of the day. We signed off in good spirits and ready to face the week.
But me, being me, I keep circling around to that idea of starting over. Maybe not starting over, exactly. We can’t undo what has already taken place. Call it starting again. Or, as in the scene from the movie City Slickers, where one character is lamenting the loss of his marriage, a “do over”. Or even, from my favorite super-obscure series, The IT Crowd, what to do when things just are not working: reboot. Have you tried turning it off and then turning it on again?
Starting over is not necessarily about starting from a blank canvas. It’s more about accepting that things are different and that what you do will now need to be different. The impetus for change might be self-induced. You recognize that the resistance, the drag, is so great that the effort involved simply cannot overcome the impediment(s) attached. Or, it might be a situation involving wholesale, rug-pulled-out-from-under-you events. A pandemic. A death. A betrayal. A diagnosis. Big stuff that you can’t overcome. Okay, take a deep breath. Either way, something has happened that changes the landscape of your life and you’re going to have to address it.
<insert curseword of your choice here>
<maybe again, if needed>
<if you’re like me, throw in a third for good measure>
Okay. I hear you. I’ve been there. So many times. And I’m not going to sugar coat the situation. It sucks. Change sucks. Pain sucks. Disappointment sucks.
Now’s the time to make up your mind though. Are you in this for the long haul? Because you can give up. I’ve seen people do it. Let bad or painful circumstances drag you under. You stop fighting, stop reaching for air, stop learning and growing because the process involves too much pain. I’ve seen two distinct ways to respond to a devastating blow. You can throw in the towel. You can rest, recover, then keep fighting. You choose.
Option 1: You lie on the mat, shake your head to clear your vision, get up and walk out of the boxing rink. Perfectly understandable. Who needs more bruising? Why would you willingly place yourself in an arena where you know you’re going to face difficulty, possibly get knocked down, and most likely will experience pain? Get the fuck out! And don’t even think about boxing ever again.
Option 2: You lie on the mat, shake your head to clear your vision, take a deep breath. Then you get up and ready yourself for another round of boxing.
Here’s a little secret I’ve learned: choosing option one does not necessarily take you out of harm’s way. Exit the ring. Go ahead. Guess what? Still alive? yes? Then you’re still going to face difficulty, possibly get knocked down, and will most likely experience pain. That’s just life. And if that’s so, wouldn’t it be more fun, more fulfilling, to do so in the boxing rink? Engaged in something you want to do? Reaching for something you want to achieve? You might end up the victor. You’ll certainly have been a boxer. You’ll definitely have been in the game. You’ll be an engaged participant rather than an unwilling pawn.
Starting over begins with the acceptance of circumstance and pain. These are steps that cannot be avoided. But if you’re willing, and don’t shrink from unpleasantness in pursuit of a worthy goal, you will successfully start over. Or, start again, if you prefer. Have you tried turning it off and then turning it on again?
It’s becoming a seasonal tradition for me to do some writing between Xmas and New Years. Often it’s the only chunk of time available to me where I can shut out the constant “to do” list of everyday life. So I’m going to make an attempt, every day this week, to identify the processes I’ve used to repeatedly reboot my own life. What helped? What was a useless, interminable wast of time? What did I do when I lost heart (which I did, many times)? And how much was moved by will vs. serendipity? I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts, observations. Please feel free – invited, even!- to pst comments.
All this and more. Stay tuned for Masterclass.