An argument to find the strength to begin, all over again.

For a moment, imagine if — for whatever reason — everything you’ve worked on up to this point, whether professionally or personally, in your life suddenly disappeared.

  • Would you be upset?
  • Would you know where to begin again?

Of course, the reasonable answer to the first question would be yes, but is there such a reasonable answer for the second? One of the (many) cognitive biases that blinds us in everyday life is normalcy bias, which is defined as:

The tendency for people to believe that things will always function the way they normally have and therefore to UNDERESTIMATE both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects. (source)

Everything in our lives is far more fragile than you think. The things we use on a daily could suddenly not be there anymore: Hard drives stop working, cloud services shut down, journals can get lost or destroyed.

Of course, we as people are even more fragile. A multitude of things could go wrong at anytime — which is why it’s so paramount to not take those around you that you love for granted, either.

A difficult truth is that there’s no solution for either of these. Whether in work or life, everything has its time, everything dies. You can do your due diligence: make redundant backups of your work, eat healthy, be grateful and live in the moment. However, the fact remains.

This can be a difficult pill to swallow, and our culture inclines to shy away from the idea. But this is not meant to be a point of dread or fear-mongering. Much the opposite, there is a radical freedom and surprising peace that comes with taking our shared fragility to heart.

Back to my original line of questioning: If everything you’ve worked on up to this point in your life suddenly disappeared, where would you begin again? During his commencement address at Standford in 2005, Steve Jobs said this:

But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

When we are in the middle of things, we are held to the constraints of obligatory responsibilities and a fixed routine. It can become comfortable, or boring, but regardless, it’s an necessary form of restriction in order to ensure the larger company functions.

But when you restart, you have a radical freedom from that. Nobody has great expectations for the beginner, they really have no expectations at all. The best kept secret? You actually can restart anytime you want, you don’t need to be fired for this to happen. You don’t actually need a devastating loss to find the humility to be an amateur.

You do need courage and the ability to be vulnerable though. The sort of courage where you do it even though you’ll still afraid. In truth, people steer away from that freedom, and for good reason, — it’s far easier figuring things out with precedence than starting from nothing.

This does not mean throwing away everything — that wouldn’t make sense. We have skills and abilities that we can still utilize even if we find ourselves doing something completely different.

Double down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction. Such pivoting is an intentional, methodical process for nimbly navigating changes.

Once you make such a big leap, you don’t have a safety net to fall back on — you have to be more willing to take chances. To be more observant of what’s going on around you, who you are in this space, and what you probably need to be doing — it’ll allow you to reach such great heights.

Perhaps an even more poignant ending thought comes from the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.