Starting from where we are, not where we want to be

When we run races, do we start at the finish line?

Of course not. We begin at the starting line, run every step (maybe walk a few), and cover all the ground in between. Everyone understands this.

So why do so many of us want to start at the finish line in other areas of our lives? And, importantly, why do we expect other people to be standing at the finish line before they have run the race?

We often think that we should be in some other better place instead of where we are. We often think that other people should be the way we want them to be instead of the way they are.

Parents do this all the time.

Children pass through difficult phase after difficult phase, with parents wishing each phase away:

“When will this baby ever _______ (take a bottle . . . sleep through the night . . . wean from the breast . . .)?”

“When will my toddler ever _______(be fully potty trained . . . stop throwing temper tantrums . . . give up the soother . . .)?”

“When will my child ever _______ (stop crying every day at school . . . learn to read . . . stop sucking her thumb . . .)?”

“When will my teenager ever _______ (settle down and do his homework on time . . . clean up that pigsty of a room . . . stop doing drugs . . .)?”

We want our children to be perfect, fully formed people without letting them run the race.

The problem is, people need to run the race. They need to go through the process.

If we expect too much too soon, it leads to discouragement and a feeling of “not good enough.” People can’t sit down at a piano for the first time and play “Moonlight Sonata.” Pianists learn to play it because they understand that a race needs to be run in order to get there.

My husband coaches hockey. He’s working through coaching training at the moment and is finding it difficult to balance the drills recommended in the workbooks with the needs of some of the players on his team. The proposed drills assume a level of skill that not all his players possess. “How can I run these drills when I need to teach my players to raise the puck?” he asks.

If he runs the drills, the players who can’t yet raise the puck will be discouraged. They will feel they aren’t good enough. But really, they are just at a different position in the race.

A friend of mine works with children who have extra challenges in their lives. She recently participated in a workshop about how to teach quality literacy to young children. She came away fuming because the suggested activities were not realistic for the kids she works with. “Some of them haven’t had breakfast. Their homes aren’t stable, so they haven’t slept. How can I do the things they propose in the workshop? I need to start with where my kids are.

Those kids don’t need more discouragement or “not good enough” feelings. They are at a different position in the race; let’s not expect them to be at the finish line.

What finish line do you see in the distance?

Earning promotion at work? Losing 10 pounds? Getting a part in a local musical? Whatever it is, understanding where you are is key.  Then figure out what ground you need to cover to get there.

Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to begin at the starting line, know that you’re good enough, and don’t get discouraged.

6 thoughts on “Starting from where we are, not where we want to be

  1. Tina

    Arlene, thanks.
    Very well put.
    I hope all who read this let it seep in to the crevices so it really sinks in for life 🙂

    1. Arlene Post author

      Thanks, Tina. Yes, holding onto it is the hard part, right? We tend to let reassurances like these slip our mind when all the pressures build up.

  2. Karen

    Thank you for your words of wisdom and encouragement. It is when we are present in the moment that we can take the time to see where we are and enjoy the journey. When we do this with children and travel from their starting line it can lead to many wonders of discovery that would not have been possible otherwise.


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