Doubt

Another year has begun, and all around us resolutions and new beginnings are falling like so much fresh snow over everything that is tired and slow to bloom. I love this idea of starting over, the way that resolution is so much like revolution, a way to kick time and discouragement and history in the teeth and just go for it.

But just as these new or renewed dedications emerge, doubt does, too. We hear about marvelous resolutions on the news, and then we hear about how infrequently people stick to their resolutions. Our friends confide their new plans to us, and in the same breath they feel obligated to explain, shamefaced, why they haven’t tried before, or to admit how they’ve failed at this endeavor — perhaps multiple times — in the past.

We all know that change takes courage. But I think sometimes we see courage as a quality embodied by lions and warriors, an ability to muscle through doubt, leaving it curled in the fetal position by the side of the road. I have to admit, though, that this has never been true for me. I’m more of a tortoise than a lion, more a nurturer than a warrior. I’ve never been able to cast doubt aside, to ninja chop my worries and plunge ahead. If I start something new, I guarantee you that in the first five minutes I will have gone through as many scenarios in my head as to why it absolutely won’t work. If you handed me a bungee cord, for example, I will have died in my head multiple times over before I even get to the platform. I’m half Jewish and half Irish, after all, which makes me twice gifted at worry and doom.

What amazes me, though, is that I do keep trying. You’d think all that doubt and worry and doom crowding my head would leave me with weak knees and a tendency to hide when the doorbell rings. And in all honesty, I think I probably did do this, metaphorically speaking of course (mostly), for a decent chunk of my life. But what I realized after a while is that doubt never has anything new to say, and it never really affects or detracts from the ability to move forward. It just is. Mental bellyaching doesn’t impede or improve growth; it’s just a part of it. Maybe even an essential part of it. How else do you know that you’re really trying to stretch, really going after something worth reaching for?

Elizabeth Gilbert says that you can’t let fear drive the bus, but you can’t expect it to get off the bus, either. I’m paraphrasing hugely here, but the general idea is there. I think many of us hold ourselves to crazy high standards when it comes to change. Ideals are never realized in an idealistic fashion. They’re realized, to be sure, but the path to reach them is gritty and embarrassing and hilarious and non-linear and ten times more rewarding than that one glorious day you get a gold star. Because no matter how glittering that star is, you wake up the next morning your regular, human self, wanting to embrace life, not achievement, wanting grow again. Maybe this time it’s just a garden instead of a Pulitzer you’re after, or maybe you realize you want the healing sustenance of a garden instead of the symbolic validation of a Pulitzer (finally), but either way, the path is going to be rife with doubt, as it should be.

So maybe instead of apologizing for those past failures, you can realize how they’re contributing to your future success. You learned something from them. You have the strength and grace to move behind them. You’re willing to try again, which is so much more admirable than pushing forward with the infatuation of first love. You’re willing to go the distance for something that matters so much to you, you come back to it, even when you know full well what it looks like without its makeup on — after standing in a strong wind, and a week with the flu. If you return to that, it’s clearly more than a passing fancy. Maybe it won’t turn out the way you think it should, but you will learn so much more about why you want what you want, and you’ll know you’ve put in good time where the work most needs to be done.

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