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Can you start over?

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You had a plan and you’ve been working hard for years. You’ve faced challenges and overcome. You’ve grown and matured on the way and you know what you’re doing. But something is missing. You don’t feel the fire. What started out as a passionate venture to the unknown has become a hollow grind. Maybe the circumstances have changed, or maybe it is you that changed, but whatever has happened has caused the fire to go out. What now?

Most of us know the feeling when we suddenly wake up and realize “This is not the way I want to live the rest of my life”. We have no idea how we got there but we know that it’s not where we want to be. This is the moment when we need to know whether it is allowed to start over.

I think it’s important to remember the analogy from “Psycho Cybernetics” where Maltz compared people with a goal to a sail boat moving towards a target. While sailing there’s the wind and waves that constantly shift the direction of the boat, so we need to continuously fix the direction to eventually hit the target. The entire trip is succession of zigs and zags, but eventually lead to a predefined destination. How I see it, when we experience a wake up thinking “This is not where I’m supposed to be”, it’s a symptom of simply going a little too long with a zig without going for the zag.

It’s not that you’ve been working on the wrong goal for these years, it’s that you have forgotten the final destination and been riding a wave a little too long. It’s time to check the compass and the map and fix the course accordingly. The course needs to be fixed constantly and when this slips our mind we are going with the current. We’re not starting over, we’re refocusing our attention to the right direction.

The question “can we start over?” is especially significant after we notice that we’ve been backtracking. We started smoking again, we gave up exercising, we let social relationships fade, etc. That’s when the feeling of “starting over” really seems appropriate. But no, we never start over. We’re already further along than we have ever been. We cannot backtrack. We can re-adopt bad habits or discard good habits but this doesn’t take us back, we’re still on the same journey but some of the habits have repeated themselves. We have more experience than before and we can continue from where we left of. It might be a slightly longer detour, but there’s no question whether this detour should be done or not. Sometimes we need to get a little lost to remember why we were on the track to begin with.

I’m not saying that getting lost is ever preferable to staying the course, but when it happens it is seldom irreversible. Sometimes it might involve a little growing pain to get back on course, but growing is supposed to be felt. Just because you’ve walked in the wrong direction for a mile doesn’t mean that you’re now committed to that direction. Just draw a new line on the map and follow it.

How many times are you allowed to fail before you have to give up? How many times are you allowed to walk in circles before you have to lay down and die? How many times do we allow our child to learn to walk until we tell them it’s time to give up and just continue to crawl for now on?

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