Beginnings. Starting something new.
I've been told by friends and colleagues for years that I should write a blog or even a book. I've seen peers and even students I've mentored start to put themselves and share their thoughts out on social media through websites, blogs, and videos.
Yet for years I have been reluctant to follow through for myself. Even after hearing repeatedly that I have a unique message and a unique way of sharing inspiration and insights on how to grow in life, I hesitated. I didn't start the process. I held back.
What is it about beginnings that feels so daunting?
Beginnings can be hard and beautiful at once. I think back to all the new beginnings in my life, the obvious ones, directed by the adults in my life at the time. Starting over with a new family through adoption. Beginning the job of big sister when begging my parents and G-d for a sibling. Beginning a new religion as a tween. Beginning on an adventure alone traveling to the other side of the world having just graduated high school. Beginning a new Hillel chapter on my college campus. Beginning a new Israel activist group during the 2000 intifada. Beginning my life as an orthodox Korean American Jew. Beginning my motherhood journey, times 4. Beginning a career.
Each new beginning taking me to new places and plunging to new depths, teaching me lessons and molding meaning in my life I cannot imagine living without. Yet, the fear of doing it again is there, in every sense. I feel my heart rate pick up, my hands get shaky and sweaty, and my head and stomach muscles tighten up.
But I sense that in this fear lies something else too.
Maybe a ripe moment. I’ve been lucky to have my life story covered in multiple publications, and now one of the largest Jewish publications in North America. But it’s easy for my mind to dismiss, to think, I'm not well known enough. There are others who have the same message and are already sharing it with the world.
Yet I can recognize this too is a fear, trying to protect me from rejection, and that nestled within that fear is also a yearning. To reach out and connect, to empower myself and others to live fuller, richer lives. Now I have the opportunity to apply the mantra I tell my clients all the time. To move past your fears, you have to face them. You make time and space to name your pain, to respect your fears, face them. Then you make the choice to hold them as you bravely work on yourself... Trust yourself to work through them. Love yourself by making the changes to become the whole vision of yourself.
The Torah shares insights about beginnings and starting something new many times. From the beginning of the Torah itself, Bereishis, "in the beginning…" to Avraham Avinu, who was the first person to begin believing in one God. The Torah tells the importance of the first fruits being brought to G-d’s temple, and explains how it is not easy. The Torah and Jewish tradition call upon us not only celebrate but to remember and feel the fears of becoming a new nation every Passover. The 40 years of wandering before reaching the Promised Land, and the Jewish people’s fear of starting a new life there.
I believe that God wants us to all develop the ability to face our fears so that we can step up when opportunity arises for us to start something new, to begin a new path, and most importantly, to relate to ourselves, to each other, and to Hashem in the way instructed by the Torah and teachings.
The question can become not how do I avoid the fear. But how do I face the fear and find the true source of inspiration and success, the light that will help me go beyond my comfort zone. And once I find that light, when do I draw from that inspiration to light my own inner candle? Because with that comes the confidence to respect my fear, and hold it together with love, to begin something new, and to grow from it.
Because while fear can hold us in place, it’s not static. And sometimes it’s an energy which, with acknowledgement and inspiration, can be transformed into something else.
Fritz Perls, who founded Gestalt therapy together with his then-wife Laura Perls, said that “fear is excitement without the breath.” He suggested that when people are fearful, they should find stillness and become mindful of their fear while breathing deeply and easily. Through this exercise, he observed that what seemed fearful then also seemed exciting. Physiologically, both fear and excitement are very similar - think of rapid heartbeats, quick breathing, or sweaty palms that come with both. And in that sense, they’re both scary, and can cause us to shrink back and walk away. Perl advised focusing on our breathing to make it deeper and calmer and to try saying to ourselves "I feel excited,” while discovering if thoughts of excitement begin to rise up.
I tried it. I sat alone in my van, thinking about this fear of putting myself out there in this new way. I felt all these physical symptoms I thought were fear, and I breathed into them. I didn’t try to run away from them, instead I tried to hold them, to observe them. I said, “I feel excited” and it resonated, so I yelled to myself “I’m excited, I'm excited to begin having a personal website and a blog!!” as I drove down the road. The teen girl in me might have rolled her eyes, but the wiser part of me didn’t back down from looking silly. I embraced the vulnerability, the first subtle, but then clear shift from fear to also excitement about reaching more people and helping others and myself to continue making those choices for growth, even when it's a challenge. Challenges which come up daily, if not hourly, for most of us. I felt a rush of motivation to express myself through writing, a favorite childhood pastime. And most of all, how exciting it would be to connect with, learn with, and hopefully inspire fellow travelers on this life journey.
I encourage you to try this exercise too. Did you find it a good idea, perhaps confusing, or simply humorous? I do want to note that the feeling of fear is important to listen to because sometimes fear is the appropriate response to a given situation. And sometimes fear and excitement exist together, and we need to make space for excitement to come out from behind fear’s shadow, or to coexist together. I am genuinely interested in hearing from you, my fellow traveler.
Let’s begin. Start something new together.