The Art of the Part Where You Start

This past weekend, I found myself attending a high school poetry recital. Having forgotten my trusty hip flask back at home, I resigned myself to what was sure to be a yawnfest.

My youngest daughter was selected as a regional finalist for this year’s Poetry Out Loud program. Billed as a “National Recitation Contest”, Poetry Out Loud includes a cavalcade of awkward teens from all 53 U.S. states and territories. Each contestant chooses from an approved list of poems, memorizes a few, and performs a dramatic reading in front of an audience of teachers, doting family members, and some random guy who doesn’t know how to silence his iPhone.

Some of the poems were written centuries ago and others are quite contemporary by comparison. Most poems touch on life’s dominant themes – aspiration, war, hope, family, struggle, perseverance, self-doubt, triumph, and other distinctly human phenomena.

As each contestant recited a chosen poem, I was drawn further into the proceedings. I was amazed at the heartfelt renditions put forth by these high schoolers. I was impressed by the participants, but increasingly my mind turned to the artists who had penned these spectacular works. Through these kids, the words of amazing poets including Maya Angelou, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dorothy Parker, and other literary greats came to life.

Inevitably, each poet started his or her work by squaring off against a relentless foe: a blank sheet of paper. To create something from nothing is no meager feat. It humbles the most stalwart among us. Yet each artist began the labor, and each overcame what Steven Pressfield dubbed ‘resistance’ in his epic how-to book The War of Art. Now, the results of these poets’ efforts rang throughout the performance hall where I stood.

The same is true with the practice of goal setting. It can be hard for us to begin. We’re not sure where to start. I’ve known successful and confident achievers who would be reduced to rubble if I were to place a blank sheet of paper in front of them with the simple instruction to write down some of their most pressing life goals.

This combination of poetry and goal-oriented thinking reminded me of one my favorite verses. It comes from John Anster as inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust:

Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute –
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

Those artists who seized their opportunity to begin have been rewarded. Their art lives on, in some cases surviving for decades or centuries after they themselves have passed. Some young person – my young person – chose to represent their works based on a deeply personal connection to that poet’s words and their deeper meaning.

Standing in that hall, I was deeply moved. Through those kids, I received these poets’ divinely inspired messages, and I had a chance to reflect on what they meant in my own life. I’m so glad these poets started so I could benefit as a result of their boldness, genius, power, and magic.

If you’re not currently pursuing a goal, please start. Don’t let a blank sheet of paper create an impregnable wall between where you are and that better place where you might be. Swallow hard, and commit to push through the fear, pain, and doubt. Once you find yourself sufficiently motivated by a compelling personal goal, as a Warrior, you must will yourself to take that critical next step and begin it.

Be bold. Open yourself to the greater collective genius. Seize your power to make a lasting difference. Magic is sure to follow.

There’s never been a better time to start than right now.

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How do you feel when you set out on a new goal pursuit? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.