A new year marks a fresh start, but starting from scratch is terrifying. Change happens all the time, though big changes make our hearts thump at an uncomfortable tempo. More than starting a new year (which we have no say in), it’s the big, life-altering decisions that activate our fight or flight reflex. It may be a new job, a new business, a budding relationship or the thought of ending one, but starting something new is often considered a risk.
For those of you who lack courage or just need a push in the right direction, here are some words of wisdom—care of my therapist—when it comes to starting over again (and yes, I sang that one, too). These might seem like platitudes, but who knows? You might pick up something along the way.
“Starting from ‘nothing’ is better than having a shaky foundation.”
After telling my therapist how afraid I was to let go of something I wasn’t passionate about but had already invested so much in, she said that letting go and starting over was better than building on something rickety from the start.
She used her hand to signal air quotes on the word “nothing” and explained how we never really start with nothing. There’s past experience—which I countered is a waste of time—and that brought her to her next point.
“Nothing is a waste of time, even if it hurts.”
After saying that I wasted so much time on old projects, relationships and jobs that just ended up traumatizing and devastating me (which I’m confident many of you may be able to relate to), she said that all the horrible things people go through aren’t a waste of time. They’re all painful but important lessons that we can take with us when we decide to try again.
It’s too bad that we have to endure so much pain to learn lessons, but sadly, that’s just how the cookie crumbles. An issue I had with this train of thought is that it could be an idea easily abused by toxic positivists who want to ignore the hurt people go through—you know, just grinning and bearing it.[READ: What’s so toxic about toxic positivity?]
The more I thought about it, though, the more it gave me some modicum of peace. It doesn’t ignore the pain, it acknowledges it. It transforms it into something that can drive you forward while giving meaning to the time you spent, even though what you tried to do didn’t come out the way you had expected it to.
“Trauma makes you think you deserve less than you actually do.”
This one is a doozy. She explained to me that trauma survivors have lower self-esteem than people who haven’t gone through the wringer. This behavior could translate to sticking around when things don’t work out instead of cutting loose and starting again (which is what I was thinking of doing). The mindset of “this is more than I deserve” is also pervasive among people who have been through bad times, myself included.
The good doctor pointed out that this was my brain lying to me. As human beings, we all deserve better. Our humanity has hardwired us into seeing happiness in an infinite loop, which can sound exhausting, but it also gives us something to look forward to. Don’t let your trauma lie to you and tell you that you deserve less and you should stick to whatever’s already here ’cause it’s the best you can get. You don’t. You deserve much better.
“Happiness can feel strange sometimes.”
As a person who has been in therapy for most of her life, I can tell you that being happy is weird. It’s like weighing a mixed bag of emotions and seeing the scale tip towards “happy.” After taking a huge leap from my old job (which left much to be desired) to my new job (which is a vast improvement), I didn’t quite know what I was feeling.
My therapist explained that after going through traumatic events, the feeling of happiness might take some time to get used to. It might be a foreign and unexpected feeling, but it should be taken advantage of and relished. It might not come as we imagine, though.
What’s important is that we stay open and let it come through when it wishes.
“No one can force you to let go and start over.”
While some may feel the pressure to start something to ring in the new year, that’s ultimately a decision only you can make for yourself. Her parting words to me were “You are in charge of your own life. You make your own decisions and no one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do.” While this is factually incorrect (in the case of someone holding a gun to my head asking me to empty out my dismal savings account), I understood the sentiment perfectly.
As cliched and saccharine as it may sound, true change really does come from within. Take the leap when you want to, don’t let anyone rush you to the edge. If you jump on your own free will, the moment you take flight will be beautiful and liberating.