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A Clean Slate?

It's so tempting to look at a new year as a fresh start or a clean slate that few of us can resist. Each year offers a new adventure into the unknown, a brand new page that could be filled with absolutely anything—the only limits are our imagination and effort. It's an exciting time, and there's nothing wrong with that! We can all use the time to reflect on the past and envision what's ahead, so if a new year helps us to ponder, then, by no means is this a bad thing. My only question is this: is a clean slate really what we want?

Maybe some things went really well for you in 2015, or maybe some things went spinning right off the rails, and you can't wait to shake off the dust of the mess you landed in. We probably all fall somewhere in that mixture, but isn't it true that the successes and failures of the past are what teach us how to grow for the future? In our hurry to start afresh, it would be tragic if we completely left behind the things that got us to where we are, for better or worse. Maybe you screwed up royally in 2015, but don't wipe the slate so clean that you forget the lessons or lose the strength that growing through that difficulty brought you.

Another shortcoming of the clean slate mentality is one we start to see every year at this time. You made some sort of great resolution to change your life, and it's been going well for two weeks. And then—you mess it up for the first time, and “the old you” returns in a moment of weakness. The first dirty smudge appears on the clean page. Is the year irreparably damaged? I suspect that more positive changes than anyone could imagine are abandoned once perfection is lost because we now see the year as a tainted clean slate instead of an ongoing journey full of both success and failure. Don't let that mindset sneak up on you! Your first mistake of the year does NOT ruin the year—nor does it ruin the month, the week, or even today. Let go of the clean slate and accept the dirty journey of progress.

The truth is that the beginning of the year is no more important than any other day, because all of them are vital. We can't afford to wait around for a mythical clean slate, because every day we are writing on that slate, whether we mean to or not. The things you've written in the past, though you may or may not be proud of them, don't need to have any control over where the story goes. However, everything you write has the potential to set the stage for a grander story in days to come. Every day, you lay the foundation for the heights you can reach in the future.

Let's not waste our time trying to clean the slate. The smudges give character anyway, and learning to write around them is often where the true art is found. (They also make your story one that others can relate to!) As we turn each new page, embracing our whole story, let's write with the same beauty, passion, and power on June 17th as we do on January 1st or any of the other beautiful, messy, free, and significant days we're given.

Ben Barnhart is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher from Cleveland, OH. Since earning his B.A. in English from CWRU in 2009, he has been helping others subdue the sometimes slippery national language while also crafting his own words, in the forms of curriculum, poetry, blogs, and a newly completed book.

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