How to Handle the False Starts of Life
False starts in a track meet happen when the runner prematurely blasts off from their marker before the starting pistol fires. Hence, the term ‘jumping the gun’. It’s when the athlete is so anxious and on edge that the gunshot goes off for them before it does for nobody else.
My Science of a False Start
I used to call certain disappointing events in my life false starts. The false starts of life suck—especially for important races. So you get a better picture of what I mean in this post, here’s my anatomy of a race in my personal life:
- It’s a two-man relay race of me and God (for this post, Providence, God, the Universe, etc. is a father figure).
- The track is my life.
- Each race is a life event.
- Each leg of the race are moments that make up the life event.
- We alternate taking the initiative—sometimes God starts the race, other times I do.
- The number of laps for each race vary, because the distance of the race is determined by the length of the life event. So although I might get caught up in the number of repetitions, laps are insignificant.
- The baton we hand off to each other when our leg of the race is complete represents strength as we run for success. Do I always rely on God’s strength? Of course, but this represents the acknowledgement that I can physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, financially only go so far until he has to completely take over.
A false start in life begins with God either starting off or taking over his leg of the race. In other words, it happens when he’s the one running with the baton. And when he starts to run, he does things you could never do, creates opportunities you could never create and opens doors you could never possibly open if you were the one still running.
But somewhere along the way, as he’s running his miraculous stretch in your life that’s filled with affirmations and blessings, the whistle suddenly blows. The race is stalled on the account of God’s false start or some running violation he committed (too much goodness, perhaps). And the race, your life event, must start all over again—or so it feels.
False starts are embarrassing
It bears repeating that the false starts of life truly suck. They lead to disappointment anger, confusion and even depression. You know what it’s like. It typically happens in about seven steps:
- You have this dire need (health, happiness, money)
- You meet the right person, at the most unexpectedly random time, who
- …connects you to another awesome person with power, who
- …has an opportunity for you (job offer, paid gig, affordable apartment, you name it),
- …and you make the necessary sacrifices and patiently wait (days, weeks, months) while you work,
- …but then it falls through on their end—like some sick joke,
- …and you start the process all over again.
What hurts most is the embarrassment you feel from telling concerned family or skeptical friends that your leap of faith is actually working out in your favor.
You tell them how God is leading the race with awesomeness at almost every step and how you’re already sprinting in faith as he’s about to hand you the baton. But when you realize he stopped running, you feel like a fool.
False starts are just delays
What if it seems as if the Universe has strategically given you a series of mini-miracles right on time, which is setting you up for your breakthrough—your parting of the Red Sea, ‘big break’ moment? What do you do when you stretch your hand over the waters and realize that ocean ain’t partin’ for nothin’ and nobody?
You wait right there, because it’s coming. I used to blame God for my false starts. But I eventually realized two things: 1) He hasn’t stopped running for me. 2) And the race hasn’t started over.
A false start is really just an unexpected or disappointing delay that makes you feel as if the all time you’ve put in, the sacrifices you’ve made, the enemies you’ve fought—everything you’ve done—was for nothing. But life is still moving.
Life isn’t linear. It’s circular. Sort of. I see life as a spiral that looks like a circle from aerial view. So although it looks like you’re passing the same point in your life over and over, you’re either improving (spiraling upwards) above it or digressing (spiraling downwards) below it.
When your breakthrough doesn’t happen when you think you were led to believe it will, you can’t give up. That’s when you need to keep going the most. You have to put forth the most effort when you least believe, because it’s not belief you’re fighting—it’s your emotions. And you know unstable those can be.
False starts are faith challenges
Your faith can never fail you. But neither can doubt. And the two cannot coexist. Ever. The difference between faith and doubt is the difference between how soon or delayed you start sprinting when you hear that gun go off.
When you’re on that running track, if your anxiety gives way and you jump the gun, it’s doubt. It’s your uncertainty of whether or not you’ll miss the opportunity or miracle that’s about to happen. If you hesitate after the starter pistol pops, it’s doubt too. It’s you wondering whether or not you should be running this race or if you’ll even win.
Start running and keep running. Finish the course. And trust that Providence will pass the baton when it’s time. When it seems as if he’s stopped in the middle of the race on account of a false start, keep your arm stretched while you run in place, staying warmed up and ready for the next leg of the race.
Here’s some practical advice the next time you decide to take on an important race that has a lot riding on it.
One way to prevent the embarrassing side effects of false starts
Many of us have what’s called the TMI syndrome. We give Too Much Information. It’s not that we talk excessively. But when we do, we give away everything—even the stuff that’s not fully developed. I used to have this problem (and sometimes still do).
We do TMI for many reasons. It could be for affirmation, conversation starters, keeping that same chat going or even as diabolical as betting on the other person to reciprocate some deep dark secret (yeah, I’m guilty of that too—I had a twisted past).
When I realized how charming I could be and that whatever I seemed to say was pleasurable (or readily forgivable), my information filter significantly widened. I learned the hard way how damaging that can be.
Stop treating everyone as if they’re your best friend you can confide in. They’re not. And sometimes even your closest family or friends won’t understand. Some things you just need to let play out until the results come. Some races will only be you and Providence, with no one watching or cheering in the stands.
That’s not meant to sound pessimistic or paranoid. It’s to help you focus on the purpose of your race. It’s not about who’s watching, but who’s running. And that’s you.
Your most intimate and crucial moments don’t need an audience. They need faith. They need tenacity. They need grit. They need you to hang in there and come back home a trophy for putting it all on the line.
I wish you all the best on your next run.