That’s right. I said it.
I said it even though I can’t count the number of times I myself have wished for one. For me the fresh start wish is more like an anxious whimper that comes out as: “I gotta get out of here.” This is my reptilian go to mantra when my situation has become uncomfortable to a degree that I feel can no longer tolerate. My lizard brain mantra flashes into my mind, unsummoned, unwanted, and unconsciously habitual and self-reinforcing. When the fish hits the fan*, something in me says it’s time to go.
Go where? Anywhere. Because anywhere is better than here. Anyplace is not this place and when I’m there in the anyplace else, everything will be different. And herein lies the first problem with the “fresh start” approach to big life problem solving. Anyplace else WILL be different in many ways I’m sure. It will be different enough in lots of day to day ways that will be distracting enough to last for a while, especially if they involve a new job, new community building, and new housing. What WON’T be different, though, is me. I don’t know who said it, but “wherever you go, there you are” must surely have been talking about me in my 20s.
I left a lot of situations in my twenties. I left friends. I left bands. I left homes. I left a husband. I left the state. I left my family. I left several boyfriends. And everywhere I went, no matter how much I left behind and how fresh my start was (like as far away as I could get while remaining in the continental U.S.), wherever I went, there I was. I couldn’t start fresh because I was still me. And the wound that needed healing was still there, the thoughts that made me feel inadequate, insecure, and uncertain jumped right in those bags with me and helped me recreate the same scenario everywhere I went. Everywhere I went, there I was, having the same problems over and over again. Fresh start fail.
For me the fresh start approach to big problem solving also fails the seriously good life skills test because it negates a central source of personal power and growth. To truly rise from our challenges, we must experience them and learn what we can from them, even if all we’re learning is that we can live through something really truly awful (this is not a small teaching). To start fresh is to ignore that learning, to disregard the toil of that human, to pack it all away in a box so that it’s tidy, at least until the pressure in the box builds and it pops open. Wherever you go, there you are, with your jack in the box of crap you brushed off your hands. Why would we want to separate ourselves from everything we’ve learned? Are we so ashamed of our mistakes that we must separate ourselves from them? I can’t speak for any of you, but for me, yes. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to face the ways I’d hurt other people. I didn’t want to figure out what was happening. I didn’t want to be in pain. I would pack all of that in a box rather than work through it because I didn’t know that working through it would give me the chance to be renewed by growing wisdom, new capacities, and a new ability to actually be myself.
Why do we like the “fresh start” idea so much? The fresh start idea sounds easier than cleaning up our messes. I’d like to emphasize the sounds part here, kind of like so many scented items that have the word “fresh” in them that smell nothing like actual rain or clean laundry. We’ve sold ourselves the idea of freshness because fresh food is good, fresh morning dew is good, fresh bread is amazing, but fresh humans? Yeah, okay they’re pretty good too, but realistically you can only be fresh as a person for a pretty limited period of time, and during that time you need A LOT of support.
Maybe that’s just the analogy we’re looking for here. Fresh humans, babies, need a lot of support and they have to learn and work through a WHOLE lot to get to the point of clearly expressing who they are successfully to all of us less fresh adults. They need the support of people who care about them. They need to experiment and fail. They need to continue to work at the same problem – be it trying to stand, peeing in the potty, or not eating rocks – until they’ve mastered it. Each of these skills acts as a building block for the next. Each experience of trying and failing acts as a model for learning and problem solving. When we want a fresh start, maybe all we really need is more support to face the challenge that lies before us.
Fresh starts are best attempted by working through the rot rather than bypassing it. When we fight through and come away changed, we are not fresh. We are not new. We are more. We are better. We are fuller, and meatier, and infinitely stronger. There are no fresh starts. There is only growth, change, and the unlimited possibility of being and loving your best self.
If you’re wanting a fresh start but aren’t sure where to begin to work on the rot, or you just need some more support, get in touch. A free coaching conversation might help you shine some light on the path through rather than around that big obstacle.
*”When the fish hits the fan” is a result of autocorrect, but I love it so much I am now adopting it. It’s just gross enough to work.