Start at the beginning

I like to play video/computer games. They became popular when I was a teenager, and I liked them from the start because I could play them alone. Like a lot of people, the first one I ever played was Space Invaders. I worked in a restaurant bussing tables in the summer, after school and on weekends, and I spent a portion of my tips after work in the bar playing everyday. When I was 16 or 17 I got the Atari 2600 for Christmas. I was addicted to that thing! I loved Asteroids, and Frogger and so many others.

One thing all those games, and their newer cousins on computers and phones, have in common is that it gets harder to win as you pass each level. The problems are harder to solve, the best strategy is harder to figure out, the tools you have at your disposal are in shorter supply, though you usually get better tools as you level up. Typically, though, you get 2 or more “lives” to play with, so that you’re not defeated immediately. This was especially important when you were paying for the privilege of playing. Still true with most of them now, though, probably so we’ll keep playing longer and see more of the ads.

I feel like these games are a metaphor for life. For me, the level of difficulty has increased with each passing year, and though I’m better equipped to face new challenges as I age, having learned from previous experiences, sometimes I “fail” a level and have to try again. Fortunately, these failures have not resulted in death, as there are no new lives in the offing in reality! We all only get the one we start with.

Unlike a video game, you can’t just start life over, either. We can’t go back to Level 1. We can’t go back and start over as a child and do the stuff that was difficult then, but that seems easy to us now as adults. I, for one, would not go back to 10th grade and have to learn geometry again if you paid me $1 million! I like feeling like I know what I’m doing, even if that’s almost completely an illusion some of the time. The knowledge that I’ve accumulated in 61 years about how to handle myself on this planet was hard-fought and is very valuable to me now. Thank you very much.

Being a beginner is exciting in a lot of ways, but it’s hard, too. Especially if you’re not used to it, like you were as a child. As adults, we have few opportunities to be a beginner, though the rate at which the world changes now keeps us on our toes, doesn’t it? Most new things, though, if not exactly something we’ve done before, are usually similar enough to something we know how to do that we can master it fairly quickly. Very few things require a completely new set of skills.

Unless, of course, you decide to do something that is really new to you, something you’ve never done before that requires a unique skill set and use of tools you’re not familiar with. Just for fun! Just because you want to. Totally outside your comfort zone, for absolutely no other reason than it looks like fun and you want to try it.


That’s exactly what I did last fall. Art Journaling. Heard of it? I had not. Totally new to me, and completely intriguing. I stumbled upon it quite by happy accident, but once discovered, it became an important element of my wellbeing practices. I invested in a truckload of art supplies and dove in head first, knowing absolutely nothing about how to use any of them. Water color and acrylic paints, inks, collage materials, watercolor pencils and crayons, oil pastels, paint pens…oh my! So many pretty colorful things! Brushes and stencils and stamps, drawing pencils and erasers, sponges. Special stuff to clean it all up after I’m done making a beautiful mess!

I set up a dedicated area at my little house, and I spend an afternoon there every weekend creating a page in my journal. I have no expectations and no plan. I just do whatever feels right and expresses what I am feeling or thinking. It’s a blast! It’s just for me – I don’t have the talent or the desire to produce anything for public consumption – and that’s exactly what makes it so freeing and wonderful. I don’t expect to be good at it, cuz I’m a beginner! I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time! I just have fun.

I have made my living for the last 28 years as a graphic designer, so I’m not a stranger to the color wheel or composition theory, so that’s helpful. All the graphics I create at work, though, are on the computer. It’s a completely different process, using programs that do a lot of the design and color work for me.

This is 100% hands-on. Nothing exists on the page unless I paint it, paste it, color, draw, stencil, stamp or spray it. It’s a direct path from my brain, through my hands, to the page. I haven’t created like this since I was a child. I loved art class when I was in elementary school, and I feel just like I did about it then – how fun is this?! How pretty! Look what I made!

I have that same enthusiasm now, because when it comes to this new endeavor, I’m a total beginner! No expectations of results. In fact, I expect to fail, so when I do, I laugh and figure out how to fix it, which, as it turns out, is usually fairly easy. It’s only paint. I can paint over it if I don’t like it, or turn the page and start over! Nothing lost. There’s plenty of paint and lots of paper. This is just for me. I’m the only one who cares about it. No one else will see it, let alone have the opportunity to approve or disapprove of it, as with my work. This is play, not work, and I’m the only person who decides its value.

I watch YouTube videos and I learn how to use the supplies, and with each page I learn something new. I’m not an artist, but I am creative, and this is filling me up in ways nothing else has. Expressing my creativity – my heart and soul – in this new way seems more meaningful in some ways than the writing journal practice I’ve done most of my life. It seems to access a different part of me that has not been expressed previously and that’s just a really cool thing at this point in my life!

I think it a very real way, I’m allowing my inner child to have a voice finally, and as it turns out, she has a lot to say! She was shy about writing, but she’s all in on this, and that’s pretty cool. We’re having a ball together! Making pictures with pretty colors and doing what we want – no one gets to tell us not to be messy, or that the sky can’t be green, or that those colors don’t look good together. Who cares? This is fun!

I encourage you to find something at which you are a beginner. It opens up a whole world of possibilities. As adults, we think we know what’s real, and what’s useful, and how to live. That’s all important stuff, but how boring! It becomes so restrictive and our worlds and souls shrink to those limits. Break out! What have you wanted to try but thought you were too old or didn’t have any talent? What looks like fun? Try that thing. Do it just for you! Embrace being a beginner with no expectations. You might be surprised by the path of hidden reality and sheer enjoyment that opens up before you!

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