September 2016


It’s back-to-school week and the annual ritual of beginning a new academic year.  One can almost feel the flurry of activity in the early morning air with the scramble for showers, clothing, lunch boxes, book bags, and bus connections! Look closely on the faces of students making their way to their new school setting and what do you see...excitement, fear, apathy, anticipation, dread, curiosity...?

This week and the fall season ahead reminds me of how life is full of beginnings...from birth to death, one home to a new one, changing friendships, stepping-stone career paths, the ebb and flow of family life, and new leisure activities which we pursue at different times in our lives.  All beginnings have three elements:

  • An ending, which requires that we let go of something that was before (“I can’t sleep in until noon any more?”)
  • A change, which stretches us and prompts us to act (“the school bus will be here in 5 minutes!”)
  • The unknown (“what will it be like at my new school and will I like my new teacher?”)

New beginnings are emotional experiences.  They have the power to motivate, excite, invigorate, and inspire us...while frustrating, overwhelming, paralyzing, and terrifying us at other times. 

The business consultant, William Bridges, writes about the importance of good beginnings for healthy organizations.  Many people engage themselves in counselling with me to learn how to begin to make a marriage work well, heal from a bereavement, begin to manage a mood disorder, or start to live their life with purpose and fulfillment.  Learning how to begin well is an important life skill.  So what do beginners teach us about good beginnings?  Here are some ideas:

  • Start Slowly.  Most swim lessons start in the shallow end of the pool.  Grief expert Alan Wolfelt, teaches those in the early stages of bereavement to move slowly, get lots of rest, and not to ‘speed through’ their grief. 
  • Baby Steps.  In the classic movie comedy, “What About Bob”, the psychologist exhorts the neurotic Bob Wiley to take ‘baby steps’ out the door in order to begin his summer without his therapist by his side!  Small steps are good to aim for and to measure in making any new beginning.
  • Establish Routines.  Look at every pre-school and nursery to see how routines are so essential for the ‘class of beginners’ . . . as they are for us as adults!
  • Picture the end.  One of my favourite authors is John Irving.  When he starts to write a book, he begins with the idea of how he envisions the ‘end’. We need a picture of the end result in order to make a good beginning.
  • Talk it out. New beginnings are facilitated by family and friends. They help us by being witnesses to our experience, hearing our story, and feeling their support.  Beginnings are meant to be shared!
  • Balance the load.  Starting anything new requires that we keep a balance with the other things in our life, so that the new experience does not overwhelm us.  Taking on too many new things at once can make us physically sick and emotionally stressed!
  • Celebrate our successes.  The first day, first week, the good test result, and the tangible signs of progress are ‘markers’ to recognize, affirm, and help to solidify the new beginning we have made.

“All glory comes from daring to begin”, writes Eugene Ware.  Good beginnings are essential for our emotional health.  Let’s learn to do them well!

Happy New Year...students, teachers, and parents!