Start Where You Are

Badolato, Calabria, Italy + Ionian SeaThe phrase “start where you are” has been rolling around in my head for weeks now. I’m not sure where I first heard it, but I immediately fell in love.

I googled it to perhaps find its origin, and the first result that comes up is Pema Chodron’s book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. I have not yet read this book, but coincidentally enough, I am currently reading Chodron’s Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change, which is, in a word, amazing (review forthcoming), but back to “starting where you are.”

Upon reading that Chodron’s Start Where You Are is about “embracing rather than denying the painful aspects of our lives,” I knew I would have to read it, too. One of the most important steps forward I made emotionally many years ago was coming to terms with past events that hurt me greatly; it was literally like flipping a switch. I remember it so clearly.

But that concept, as important as it is, isn’t what I have been equating with “starting where you are” in my head over the past few weeks. Instead, I was interpreting it much more literally, much more practically:

To stop making excuses for why I can’t do something, and just do it.

To start doing whatever it is I want to do –right now — from wherever it is I am.

I don’t know about you, but I have a perfectionist inside of me who defers to waiting until the “right” moment, until I have all the necessary tools or facts or information or whatever it is she believes I need to begin.

Or maybe she simply wants to wait for permission from goodness knows who.

I’ve had to fight her mightily over the years, and I’ve won many battles, but she’s relentless. She rears her perfect little (big) head any and every time I think about trying something new, doing something outside of my comfort zone, stretching my possibilities.

Will I be good enough?

Am I really ready to go down this path?

Will I *gulp* fail?

As I have clawed forward and pushed through doubts these past couple months, a handful of friends have come to me with their own insecurities about moving forward on something they’ve wanted to pursue — these all happened to involve writing, which is no surprise since I’m both a writer and a publisher, but they didn’t have to. The idea is always the same.

Start where you are. Take that first small step and then keep going. And going. And going.

Convento Santa Maria degli Angeli, Badolato, Calabria, ItalyAs so often happens in my life, these friends came to me at exactly the right time. Exactly when I needed to hear all those words of encouragement myself — the words I should be able to tell myself, but sometimes that perfectionist gobbles them up before they can reach my own brain, or heart, or wherever.

Somehow they come so much easier when encouraging someone else to follow his or her path.

So just in case you need to hear them, here you go:

Start where you are.




And don’t let anyone, especially that perfectionist in your head, tell you that you can’t or that you’re not good enough.

You are — or at least you will be — but you’ll never get there without starting . . . where you are.

70 Beans of Wisdom to “Start Where You Are”
  1. 02.18.2013

    Grazie mille, Michelle! Just what I needed to hear, my perfectionist has been nagging at me for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been listening to her for way too long. I’m putting her on hold and listening to new influences, you being one of them, thank you xx

    michelle Reply:

    How wonderful, Peta! You tell her 😉

  2. 02.18.2013

    Inspiring post! We all can use a boost of confidence from another source because sometimes the voices in our head are so strong that our heads can’t listen to our hearts. And, Pema’s books are all incredible 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Pema’s books *are* incredible, aren’t they? Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Lisa 🙂

  3. 02.18.2013

    I love this post and I love Pema Chordron. She has another amazing book called Heart Advice for Difficult Times, which literally saved me during a very tumultuous time in my life. Your blog and your optimism are amazing!

    michelle Reply:

    Great to “see” you Michelle 🙂 xx


    It is the taking of the very first step that is the biggest obstacle – a weird desire to know that it will all be ok before we even start? How reasonable is that? I am learning to embrace not knowing and just shuffle along one baby step at a time…

    michelle Reply:

    Baby steps are what it’s all about, Renee!

  5. 02.18.2013

    Wonderful advice. Love it. You always inspire me. Thanks for that.

    And now, I shall go do.

    michelle Reply:

    Excellent, Ally! And enjoy, too!

  6. Chodron is one of my favorites. Your blog is lovely. And the photos of Italy – stunning.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much, Valorie; welcome to Bleeding Espresso 🙂

  7. Marsha

    I’m another big Pema Chodron fan and I too keep reminding myself to start, keep going, continue to move ahead one step at a time.

    michelle Reply:

    Such wonderful reminders, Marsha; thank you for reading!

  8. AmyEmilia

    Thanks Michelle. A sister proverb to this is one of my favorites, often seen on a map: You Are Here. Reminds me to be where I am – not where I fear I will be, or where I used to be, or even where I want to be.

    michelle Reply:

    Love that too, AmyEmilia…and also ‘Wherever you go, there you are.’ 😉

  9. I love this post! I relate to it so much and appreciate your take on it. You remain an inspiration in so many areas: lawyer moving beyond, expat, simplified living, writing, publishing and more. Thank you, Michelle!

    michelle Reply:

    Thank YOU, Dawn! Always lovely to “see” you 🙂

  10. 02.18.2013

    Caro Mia,

    I just suffered through another saying with this post on another social medial form; “look before you leap”. Sighhhh.

    I had a flashing thought of the origin of “Start where you are” as I began to read this post. I believe Lao Tzu in the Tao te Ching writes; “every great journey begins with a single step”. Of course there is nothing new under the sun…it has all been written in some form or another before. Yet your take on “Start where you are” is refreshing and dead on for many of us today.

    I know for me from having diligently worked for so many years on my recovery and maturing in life that literally every hesitant moment in my life today is predicated on some form of fear deep within me. You so aptly called this out in your post Michelle, I know people who have spent literally a fortune in money and time and never ever got this idea because they did not want to. Bravo to you for this insight.

    For me and me alone, the antithesis for this malady of “non starting” is deep within me and is of a Divine Nature. When I am in tune with the Universe or a “Higher Power” in a given moment then I am in fact “empowered” and productive in life in any manner I need. The trick is to continue day by day to stay within the thinking confines of a Power Greater than Myself.

    OK OK OK….this is starting to look like it should be on my own blog. Hmmm, good idea. See, once again my thinking was lifted by your thoughts to a plane that makes we want to produce in my life. Once again you have as one above said; “inspired” us readers. Was gonna say “groupies” but…

    As we used to say in South Baltimore “Ratttt On” and thank you.

    Love and Light

    PS: If I ever finish either of my two books you guys get the editing/publishing job.

    michelle Reply:

    As always, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Richard…glad yo were able to push through another blog post as well. And best of luck on your manuscript!

  11. 02.18.2013

    So simple and yet so important! I’m happy to see a new post from you – I was moments from direct messaging to make sure you were/are ok! I needed this reminder as well – starting where I am is really the only option! I, too, sometimes postpone, waiting for the right moment -and then suddenly you learn there is no “right” moment…

    michelle Reply:

    You need to follow on FB, Courtney…I’m there pretty much every day 😉 Hope this is the right moment for you to find me over there hee hee……

  12. J. F. Margos

    Michelle, you were reading my mind or something. I have had the worst time lately, and this morning I was saying something like this to myself, but you expressed it so much better. You also hit on certain specific things that really rang true for me and that I needed to think about.

    Well done!

    Thank you!

    Have a marvelous day/evening. 🙂


    michelle Reply:

    How wonderful to hear, J.F….thank you!

  13. 02.18.2013

    Isn’t it the most simple words and ideas that inspire us the most? I particularly like the simplicity and feelings behind Start Where You Are.

    By the way, I just included in my 10 Expat Blogs You’ll Love on my site Happy week!

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much, Sonya! Much obliged 🙂

  14. Perfect way to end the day … check! 🙂

    Very inspirational blog post, Michelle! Thank you for sharing about Pema Chodron. I’m not familiar with her books, but I will certainly be reading soon. They sound wonderful! Thanks for the Monday inspiration … now I’m off to do some of that stuff! 😉

    michelle Reply:

    Sounds good to me, Laura! You will love Pema Chodron 🙂

  15. 02.18.2013

    Great post and hit home as I have been having doubts in my own abilities to cope alone with D being in hospital for so long. 🙁

    michelle Reply:

    Aw, thanks so much LLM…thinking of you often xx

  16. 02.19.2013

    I relate so much, Michelle. Thank you for sharing your experience and vulnerability. If you’re interested, you can read my “music bio” at where I talk about the stage fright and self-doubt that kept me from sharing my music for 9 years. I kept thinking, “I’ll record an album and start performing once I conquer my fear and self-doubt.” That idea got me nowhere for 9 years, and in fact drove me deeper and deeper into the darkness of dormancy, untapped potential and unfulfilled passion, until I hit an emotional bottom so profound that my only choice if I truly wanted to be fully alive was to “start where I was” and just do it. I learned that for me it’s not about being fearless; it’s about being brave. “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Thank you for sharing. I appreciate relating with others.

    michelle Reply:

    Good on you, Carmen! So happy that you’ve overcome your fear and self-doubt…love your story!

    Carmen Caserta Reply:

    You know, I’m not sure I’ve actually overcome the fear and self-doubt entirely; I’m not sure I ever will. I think I’ve just learned or decided to do what my heart calls me to do despite the fear and self-doubt. I just made a decision to say, “Who cares what I think,” which might sound weird, but if I always listened to what my mind tells me about myself, I’d rarely get off the couch! 😉

    michelle Reply:

    Well I meant overcome to the point where you’re not paralyzed…I’m not sure any of us *completely* overcome fear and self-doubt in general! We all feel the fear…we just have to push through anyway 🙂

  17. 02.19.2013

    Thank you, Michelle, for the reminder to fight that annoying perfectionist in the head who sows so much insecurity. I look forward to your review of Pema Chodron, and getting to know her work.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks Jann! I have loved everything Pema Chodron has written…I don’t think you can go wrong with any of her books!

  18. Karin

    Four beautiful words that can be taken in a spiritual and practical way. I will have a look at the book you mentioned. Thanks!

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for coming by, Karin 🙂

  19. 02.19.2013

    Great post Michele! And like you said, it comes at the right time. I have also been struggling with many of the same issues and trying to make things ‘perfect’ and then there’s that little thing called fear that starts to creep in too. I also recently wrote a post about this and it really helped to make me feel better about everything. Just getting it out and admitting that its hard can be the first step in the right direction. But, in the end we’ve come this far, what is there is stop us now. In fact there is a great TED talk you may be interested in checking out called ‘what fear can teach us’ in the end, fear is our imagination and how wonderful it is that we are able to come up with such vivid ideas, and how wonderful would it be if we could embrace that imagination! Good luck with you new adventure!

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for the suggestion on the TED talk, Sara; love them!

  20. Beverly Genevish

    Great post! My first thought was we should both submit our DNA for testing as I’m pretty sure we were seperated at birth. We are walking parallel paths. I wrote a letter to my sons about pushing forward with baby steps ( ). Feel free to read and take your own inspiration!
    In my quest for ways of breaking through my own self imposed barriers, I came across a sentence spray painted on a wall. “Your fear of looking stupid is holding you back.” Well ain’t that the truth! Go! Do!

    michelle Reply:

    Looking stupid…ooh that’s a biggie…thanks so much for coming by and sharing your post and blog, Beverly 🙂

  21. D

    I fell in love with your blog when i first discovered and read your post “whats luck got to do with it”. Since then, I’ve loved to read everything you’ve written, but I found myself vigourously shaking my head in agreement at this one again 🙂
    I have been trying to implement for myself,
    1. “Do not make the perfect the enemy of the good” (from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project).
    2. Stop trying to maximize everything. It gets you better results but makes you miserable.
    and this picture I saw on facebook that says
    3. “Start where you are, Use what you have, Do what you can”

    michelle Reply:

    Love these tenets, D! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  22. Oh yes that voice in my head telling me I’m clueless…. although I try not to listen I am often stopped by the thought that I’ll never be any good at this!!! thanks for the reminder, I’m one of those people who can give this advice but don’t give myself a break. xxx

    michelle Reply:

    Hugs to you, Lisa! Clueless is certainly not a word I’d use to describe you 🙂

  23. Gil

    What a nice inspirational post. I’m sure it will be very beneficial to plenty of people that are stuck in a rut trying to figure out what to do. On the other hand, the ‘perfectionist’ in me was a bit lazy!

    michelle Reply:

    Haha, I have one of those lazy versions sometimes too, Gil 😉

  24. stacy

    girl did i need to read this. our move is immiment and i sometimes find myself paralyzed with fear, doubt, and the overwhelming task of moving a lifetime overseas.thanks for the post

    michelle Reply:

    Such an exciting time you have ahead, Stacy…enjoy!

  25. Kim

    Definitely starting now. Great post.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks Kim! Go!

  26. 02.23.2013


    michelle Reply:

    Grazie 🙂

  27. 02.24.2013

    Good gravy. Thank you. Both books are now on my Amazon wish list. I needed this.
    I’ve been paralyzed by … well, myself. I think I need to go back and reread…

    michelle Reply:

    Hugs to you, Lucinda, as you move forward 🙂 xx

  28. Hi Michelle, I’ve been reading your blog regularly for at least a year but only recently began subscribing, so it was a treat to see a new post in my mailbox!

    “Start where you are” is a great command, and an encouraging reminder to take an honest look at where I am and where I’d like to be, without allowing the yawning gap between the two to serve as an excuse to give up. I can really relate to the tendency towards looking for permission from others, as well as demanding perfection (from myself), as a prerequisite to taking action.

    You mentioned that coming to terms with past hurts was one way you’ve been able to move forward, which reminded me of a piece of advice I recently heard about living mindfully: acknowledge that the past no longer exists, and neither does the future. What we have, what does exist, is right now. For me, this concept seems frightening and freeing at the same time.

    michelle Reply:

    So true — frightening and freeing! I was watching something yesterday about dogs, about how they only know the present — no past, no future…lucky dogs! 😛

  29. SW

    Lovely post, Michelle – and, as always, it manages to strike just the right cord. I’ve really missed your blog for the last two months I’ve been without internet. You’re always such a breath of fresh air!

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much, SW! Great to “see” you 🙂

  30. Rose Marie Milcetic

    That was a wonderfully inspiring post — indeed one that many of us needed to read!!!!!! It brings to mind the wise and succinct proverb used often by my maternal grandmother which in the Italian words were “VOLERE, POTERE, FACERE”
    (Translation consists of three verbs which are: to want to, to be able to, to do it”). It is actually quite simple. Isn’t it?!?

    michelle Reply:

    That’s a great proverb, I agree, Rose Marie!

  31. Ciao Michelle,
    thank you for another great post. It’s so true. Just start, with little steps, one after the other. Move. It is right what I am thinking now when painting, less writing, but maybe both one day 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Painting is great too, Suzie 🙂

  32. 03.28.2013

    Love it!
    Let’s just get started and stop waiting for “perfect” circumstances right?

    Buona Pasqua to Bleeding Espresso!
    Hugs , Grace.

    michelle Reply:

    Exactly Grace — perfect just doesn’t exist 🙂

  33. 04.03.2013

    Hi Michelle, thanks a lot for this inspiring post. “Start where you are are” are expremely powerful words. I will add patience while a project grows. Making a vision reality takes time.

    michelle Reply:

    Absolutely true, Stefanie — and patience, as my grandmother always used to say, is indeed a virtue 😉

  34. 04.19.2013

    Amen… and amen again. You know, this sounds so good right now, and every day.

    Onward and upward, my friend.

    Ciao bella mia.
    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    michelle Reply:

    Grazie cara! xx



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