Empty Pages


What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. —Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

It was a fantastic gift.

When I was young my parents gave me a blank book. Proud white letters declared The Big Book of Johanna across its yellow and blue cover. Each sturdy page contained a large empty box for drawing my adventures with writing lines underneath for telling my story. It seemed like a book of endless possibility.

I loved to draw and write and was eager to have an entire book full of pictures and stories of my life.

And yet…

Something held me back.

The book was so perfect.

I only wanted to put my best work inside. I wanted to fill the book with my most interesting experiences. I was terrified of making a mistake.

I was afraid to let any mark of my own imperfection ruin the precious gift I’d been given.

I created a few pages here and there, but mostly the book waited for me to feel worthy of filling it’s pages. I’m sure my parents were disappointed. It probably appeared I didn’t care about the book.

The truth was I cared so deeply. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t believe my life was interesting enough or my skills were developed enough to make the book into what I dreamed it could be. I was so afraid of messing up or wasting the book that I hardly used it at all.

But the book was designed for a child and eventually I grew up.

While I waited until I was good enough and interesting enough I outgrew the book without ever really enjoying it. I’m no longer a child and all I have is a book of empty pages instead of a treasure of childhood memories.

Isn’t this how we often approach life?

We’re so afraid of making a mistake and putting a blemish on this one precious life we’ve been given. We wait until we have the knowledge and the skills to craft something amazing. We wait until we have a story worth telling and believe we’re good enough to tell it.

We wait and we wait as life passes us by.

But our lives don’t have to be filled with mostly blank pages.

We can choose to hold back and wait until we feel good enough to show the world who we are and what we have to give.

Or we can show up and start filling in our book—knowing there will be messes along the way.

It’s hard to risk failure. It’s scary to be vulnerable. We shy away from trying anything until we can be certain of the outcome. But doing only what is comfortable keeps our lives so limited. Our greatest growth comes when we’re willing to lean into discomfort instead of hiding from it.

What if you opened your book and started writing your story, even it doesn’t seem interesting and you don’t know all the details yet?

You are not alone. No one feels ready.

The reality is no one feels comfortable beginning something new. No one has everything all figured out. Everyone faces the uncertainty of wondering whether who they are is good enough.

The biggest difference between the people whose books are filled with words and pictures and those whose blank pages still sit waiting isn’t how ready they feel.

It’s how willing they are to start anyway.

The funny thing is, we don’t feel ready to do the things that stretch us until we actually start doing them. The more often we’re willing to take a small first step in the midst of our fear, the easier it becomes.

If I had chosen to just start drawing and writing in my book, not only would I now have a vibrant keepsake, but I’d also have improved my skills as I practiced on each consecutive page. Even if there was some frustration and disappointment along the way when I couldn’t reproduce the vision in my mind, there also would have been fun and joy in creating.

Life’s a journey not a destination.

When we get caught up in the perfect result we want to display in the end, we forget we don’t need all the answers before we start. There are things we can’t possibly know until we try.

We will make mistakes and we will make messes. Then we’re faced with the choice of whether to give up or try again. As long as we keep moving—even if it doesn’t always feel like our movement takes us forward—we’re writing adventures along the way.

What if instead of trying to envision a complete book, turning out just the way I hoped and planned, I’d chosen instead to focus on just the page in front of me that day? Day after day, page after page of showing up and trying would have added up to something beautiful.

Even a mistake might turn into a wonderful surprise. One messy page doesn’t ruin the whole book, especially if we take the time to learn from what didn’t work.

When you pay attention to where you are instead of where you wish you were, you might discover a possibility you hadn’t even imagined. The things we learn along the way are what prepare us for what lies ahead.

As long as you’re breathing your story isn’t over. You have the choice to try again or try something new.

It’s not just the extraordinary that matters.

Perhaps you have a dream of doing something great. Perhaps you don’t believe you can.

Maybe the most valuable contribution you can make isn’t that one big thing. Maybe your most lasting, appreciated impact comes in the form of ordinary, everyday things.

Noticing and reaching out to your lonely neighbor. Reminding your husband you are proud of him. Celebrating the beauty of the first daffodils of spring. Showing up to assemble care packages. Appreciating the creativity of a child’s drawings.

Just because these things won’t make headlines doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Connection, support, and gratitude go far to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Don’t save all your blank pages for that one big thing you hope to achieve one day. Fill them with everyday love and joy and beauty. You never know what story is being written by these seemingly trivial things.

Sometimes I wonder what day-to-day pieces of my childhood are forgotten because I wanted to record only the spectacular. Now, not recording the exceptional moments isn’t what I most regret. Those are mostly captured in photographs or seared into my memory. And to be honest, only seeing the highlights doesn’t really show what it was like on an average day to just be me. What I really miss is the chance to see how the little things that mattered to me each day add up to the story of who I am.

What have you been waiting to begin because you just don’t feel ready yet? What are you afraid of? What are you most excited about? What is one small step you can take today to get started?