Start Here

Welcome to Field Notes by Cathy Jacob at

This post has been adapted from my podcast, Sound Insight, Episode 1: Start Here. If you’d rather listen than read, you can find the episode here.

I’m writing this in January. We’re in the full throes of winter here and it’s freezing out there.

At the same time, the Omicron virus is washing over us like a tsunami and, once again, we’re facing another winter in various stages of lockdown. There’s lots to feel grumpy about and for some of you, there may be good reasons to feel worried or discouraged.

My ask is that you set all that aside for the next few minutes, take a deep breath and let’s start here.

Are you launching another personal improvement project this year?

In addition to being deep winter, because it’s the beginning of a new year, January is also the month of fresh starts, do-overs, and make-overs. If you’re like me, there’s something enticing and inspiring about starting over. You may already have your resolutions and plans in place.

Some of you may be launching major personal improvement projects. Maybe you’ve done a personal inventory of all of your faults and all the ways your life would be perfect, if only. Maybe, you’re thinking that this is your year. This year, you’re going to fix everything that’s wrong with your life.

Maybe you’re telling yourself, “I can do this!”

  • if I just try hard enough,
  • if I’m just disciplined enough,
  • if I just behave in a completely different way than I ever have before,


Because I’m posting this toward the end of the month, I have to ask. How’s that working out for you? Are you still on track?

If you’re feeling inspired and energized and things are coming together, awesome. Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.

But if, as they like to say in this part of the world, “the arse is out of ‘er”. If you can feel your resolve crumbling. Or if you’re already curled up in the fetal position, eating storm chips and binging on Netflix, don’t despair.

You’re not alone and there is a better way.

You simply start here.

The dark side of do-overs.

There’s a dark side to do-overs and to the unending quest for that ideal future self. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for personal growth, growing your leadership, and your impact. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be much of a coach.

But an over-focus on do-overs, fresh starts, and project “ideal you” can be a form of perfectionism, a form of wanting to erase what has gone before, of not wanting to be with the way you are right now. It can have an unforgiving and even obsessive energy.

It can be a way to quell that voice in your head that tells you, you don’t quite measure up or a way to avoid things that you really need to address.

That New Year’s project of pushing reset and making the ideal start toward the perfect you can get you stuck at the start line, listening to the sound of your engine unable to slip into gear. Worse, it can have you lurch out of the starting gate and run out of gas before you get to the end of the month. It can be an exercise in futility, leaving you berating yourself for your lack of discipline and motivation. Most humans can’t simply push reset and start from scratch. We just don’t work like that.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn said in his book of the same title, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Even at the moment of our birth, we didn’t start with a clean slate. We were born already fully formed, with a full set of genes that pre-programmed us with unique gifts, strange quirks, and infuriating tendencies. We were born into an environment and a complex set of circumstances over which we had no control.

A quality beginning is not a makeover or an exercise in perfection. It cannot erase who we are or what has gone before.

A new beginning will not transform you instantly into a radically different person. You come with baggage, deep conditioning and it doesn’t suddenly disappear because you’re declaring a do-over.

This is the paradox of a fresh start – it may be a beginning but it’s never entirely new because we bring our complex and already formed selves to it.

The art to making a quality start.

Making a good beginning involves an act of acceptance of who and where we are now. It includes forgiveness for whatever mess we made yesterday, for the tasks we failed to complete, or for the words we wish we hadn’t said – and at the same time, a recognition that no forgiveness is necessary. That we are worthy of love, no matter what. The past is already written and can’t be erased, it can simply be acknowledged and included.

You and I are works in progress and that is what makes us interesting. It’s what makes life interesting.

All you can do is start here, now, in this moment. Embrace all of it, the full hot mess of who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’ve failed to accomplish.

At the same time, a fresh start is still possible. Evidence of this is offered to us every morning.

From my perch overlooking the Halifax Harbour at dawn, I watch the sun marshal the day. I witness nature’s stunning, ever-changing and heart-stopping variation on a fresh start. It always comes after a dark night and sometimes I appreciate it most when I’ve been unable to sleep and the darkness of my mind or my circumstances seem all-consuming.

And then at dawn, the sun illuminates all of it – the shadow and the light. All that was there yesterday, remains today, caressed by soft light at the tender beginning of a new day.

A quality beginning can grow you if you create good soil conditions. Growth and change are possible if you are prepared to work with what is here, to face and include it all, to forgive and be forgiven, and to take that first step into the unknown.

I’m not suggesting you give up the work of your own growth or even the practice of starting your year with a vision or intention of what you want to create. These practices can be very useful, they certainly have been in my life. What I’m suggesting is that you let go of the “perfect you project” and practice fully accepting, acknowledging, and working with the you that’s here now.

Please leave your thoughts and comments below. How do you make a fresh start? What have you found helpful?

Cathy Jacob

I'm Cathy Jacob. I am a writer, coach and co-founder of Fire Inside Leadership. After two decades of coaching leaders on how to inspire while navigating the challenges of demanding careers and lives, I’ve created this site to share the best of what I’ve learned from my courageous clients and leaders in the fields of psychology, leadership, philosophy and neuroscience on what it takes to live an inspired life.


  1. Alison Gillan on February 4, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    This phrase resonated so strongly with me: “All you can do is start here, now, in this moment. Embrace all of it, the full hot mess of who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’ve failed to accomplish.” That, right there, is where I will start.

    • Cathy Jacob on February 7, 2022 at 7:05 pm

      Thank you, Alison. So glad that spoke to you.

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