When you open Meera Lee Patel’s Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration, the first thing you see is a single sentence, neatly written in vibrant watercolors: Every answer is inside you. These five words serve as the backbone of Patel’s short, interactive journal, and set the stage for the prompts and inspiring messages that follow.
The structure of the book is simple. One page has one of Patel’s colorful watercolor illustrations, coupled with a quote from a multitude of inspirational individuals, such as Amelia Earhart or Roald Dahl. Beside it, on the next page, is an exercise meant to guide you through your own thoughts while reflecting on the quote on the earlier page. While most of the prompts ask for written answers, many prompts include instructions to draw, make a list, or create a chart.
True to its earlier declaration, Start Where You Are offers no answers of its own on the secrets to happiness, because the answers must come from the reader. Patel’s journal can’t tell us who we are or who we want to be. Rather, Patel merely asks us the right questions, then gives us the inspiration, space, and guidance to work out the answers on our own.
Here are three kinds of questions Patel’s exercises force you to ask yourself:
What brings me joy?
Gratitude is one of the hardest feelings to express when we’re downtrodden. It can be hard to feel happy or grateful when life gets tough or tragedy strikes. It’s when we’re low, however, that we need to count our blessings the most. The things we love and appreciate keep us centered, and serve as motivation to keep us going when we don’t feel like we can.
Patel helps us figure out what we truly care about and reminds us of times when we felt we were on top of the world. Not only do we feel empowered and inspired by the exercise when we complete it, we can also look back on those prompts during our darker days to remind us of what really matters and embolden us to push forward.
What scares me?
Spiders. Public Speaking. Death. Whether we want to admit it or not, everybody is afraid of something. It’s natural to want to turn from these fears and seek comfort far away from them, but avoiding what scares us isn’t the right answer. Rather, we must face our fears head-on, learn from the mistakes we make, and allow ourselves to grow, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Patel knows that growth comes from discomfort. She understands the anxiety and uncertainty of leaving one’s comfort zone but also recognizes that life’s most powerful and formative moments happen just outside where we’re comfortable. Her exercises offer a safe space to experience the discomfort of growth without fear of judgement or consequence. She guides readers to the root of what’s holding them back and gives them the tools to break free from their comfort zone and experience life to its fullest extent.
Where do I want to go from here?
In some places, this question takes on a very literal meaning, like with the exercise that asks readers to color in 10 places on a world map to which they want to travel. In others, however, the question is more personal or profound. What are 10 dreams you have that haven’t come true yet? What do you want to do but fear it’s too late to do it?
Start Where You Are helps you outline what really matters to you but also guides you to where you want to go, and encourages you not to be afraid of the path between who you are and who you want to be, but rather, inspired by it.
It doesn’t matter where you start; it just matters that you start.
While each exercise uniquely addresses a variety of aspects of our lives—our hopes and dreams, our prized possessions, even our darkest fears—they all harken back to the primary question of who am I? Some exercises, Patel admits, are easier to complete than others, but it’s to the advantage of the reader to answer honestly. To quote Patel herself, “The hardest questions are the ones that open doors.”