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Where do I begin?


Hello STANDOUT Professors and friends! Because I am still in the midst of holiday celebrations with family, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Speaking of which, it may surprise you to learn that I love the challenge of communicating an idea or feeling in just a few words. This post won’t illustrate that (and earlier STANDOUT Professor blog posts certainly don’t!), so if you’re curious, please check out my relatively inactive haiku blog. Now on to the matter at hand.


I have witnessed some amazing beginnings recently… a colleague launching a beautiful website, a friend receiving an exciting job offer, a fantastic youth arts organization springing to life. As I reflect on these and other great debuts, it strikes me that the most exhilarating beginnings are those in which we go all in—heart, body, mind, and soul—despite tremendous uncertainty. These leaps of faith can be thrilling. Excitement courses through our veins. We see endless possibility. We’ve got the world on a string. At the same time, we know that the cost of entry to this magical playground can be steep. We risk heartbreak, failure, and disappointment. And our egos tell us that even worse outcomes are likely… ridicule, isolation, and abandonment. The fear can keep us frozen in our tracks.


Even so, these aren’t the hardest of all beginnings, at least in my experience. To me, the most difficult beginnings are the smallest… the ones that seem inconsequential. The ones that we do over and over, sometimes every day. Recommitting to getting that dissertation revised for what feels like the thousandth time, after years of work and a long string of rejections. Vowing yet again to see the innocence in our students or colleagues. Promising ourselves that we’ll be more present with our partner, more patient with our aging parents, more loving to those around us. There’s little fanfare in these beginnings. Virtually no celebration to speak of. The promise of an exciting new life doesn’t spring forth from the mere thought. Instead, these mini-beginnings feel like what they are… hard work. Drudgery. A slog.


Yet surprisingly (and seemingly against all reason), my experience suggests that it is precisely—and maybe exclusively—in these tiny new beginnings that our lives actually change. It’s in our willingness to start over one… more… time… that things begin to shift, to shake loose. Our heads start to clear and our hearts begin to soften. Maybe that paves the way for the exciting new beginnings to come. Or maybe it just makes life better today, regardless of our circumstances. Either way, as we approach the start of a new year, I intend to make a point of celebrating not only the shiny new beginnings, but also the more mundane beginnings that happen every day. My hope is to elevate them, putting them on equal footing with those more public Facebook-worthy kick-offs. And why not? These small beginnings take no less courage and sometimes even more effort than the bold new projects that capture our imagination.


So here’s wishing all of us the courage to simply begin… wherever we are and whatever that means to us. After all, that's where everything starts.


See you in the new year!

Elizabeth

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© Elizabeth Odders-White 2020

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