As you start to work towards something new in life, you always hit that new, unfamiliar, not so comfortable stage before you hit your stride with it. This is what I have come to call “The Messy Middle,” a term I first saw on a DIY home improvement blog, but quickly stole as my own a a great description for the harder parts of personal exploration and development.
It’s a great analogy, really. If you’ve ever done any home improvement projects you know what that Messy Middle looks like. You’ve pulled everything out of your cabinets to repaint them and are living in a mess for a couple of weeks. Or you get the chicken pox in the middle of a bathroom vanity redo and it ends up taking you six months longer than you’d thought it might (yes, that happened to me last year) to finish the concrete counter tops.
It’s the same way when you do the hard work on yourself. You start and it’s hard, and things are pulled apart a bit, and you might find that you need to work on some other pieces that you hadn’t even intended to work on, and there you are. Right in the Messy Middle. Right in the hard stuff. And damn, it can be hard to handle when you all you have is a general vision of WHY you started, but you can’t quite understand what the end will look like, or how it will benefit you. Or, if we’re using the home improvement analogy, it’s disheartening when your counters remain not sealed, not finished for a couple of months and you KNOW you’ll love the finished look, but yeah, in the middle it seems like it will be forever before it’s finished and it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re just surrounded by mess.
Here’s the even crazier part, it’s right then, in the Messy Middle, that your ego wants you to believe it would be easier to give up, or that you’d prefer things to just be the way they were. You may hear a voice in your head trying to convince you that the thing you set out to change “wasn’t really that bad” to begin with. It’s easy to start, with great intentions, and it’s so much harder to see the improvements through to the finish. If you’re digging in to do work on your own stuff, your personal stuff, it’s even harder because you may not be sure what the “end” product will look like.
So, instead of fleeing the scene, instead of giving up in the Messy Middle, instead of abandoning the project, why not see the Messy Middle with new eyes? Sit with the mess. Welcome the mess. Get cozy with the uncomfortable weird stage. Instead of it being a fearful, uncomfortable, weird middle, take a look at it with the curiosity of a beginner. We all start somewhere. No master ever got to where he or she is by giving up during the Messy Middle. By being curious we can appreciate what’s new, and learn to see it with new eyes.
Over the last year, I’ve run TOWARDS the Messy Middle. I may not have known that’s where I was headed when I started out, although I had an inkling that things were about to get a bit topsy turvey. In my Ten in Three, I’d committed to getting married, to getting certified as a life coach, and to planning and leading a major retreat. All three are big efforts. All three seem to have that equal factors of terror and amazement to them.
Right now, my Messy Middle looks like a cluttered house, a pantry full of a bizarre combination of foods, but not quite the right ingredients to make a full meal. I have about 27 unmatched socks, and honest-to-goodness can’t find the mate to any of them. Really, any of them. How does that even happen?
And, yet I also have a loving family, I’m on a journey to create a life I love. And, I’m starting to love this Messy Middle. It’s so full of newness, of that nearly childhood sense of wonder. I have given myself permission to play by my own rules, after following someone else’s rules for a very long time. There is freedom in the Messy Middle, there is love, there is openness, and there so much space here. It has taken awhile to LOVE this place and this season, and it only comes with a genuine loving kindness for myself, and a surrender to what is, but I have fallen in love with the Messy Middle and it’s infinite possibilities.
If you’re there and it’s new, you may be asking how you could possibly fall in love with the Messy Middle yourself.
1. Surrender to the new experience, allow it to be what it is, and resist fighting it just because it’s new or unknown.
2. Start getting excited by the possibility of being caught somewhere between terror and amazement of your own journey. There is tension in living between two extreme, and the Messy Middle is full of extremes. While society is not well versed in sitting with strong feelings, this new path may give you the opportunity to feel both terror and amazement, fear and excitement, sadness and joy. Recognize the uniqueness of your situation, listen for what you may learn here. Resist the urge to dismiss the emotions just they don’t seem to “match.”
3. Listen to your heart and your gut, let intuition lead the way. Especially in new places or on new journeys, you may have the tendency to let your head lead, making plans on how to get to specific goals and achievements. I’m definitely one of those Type A people who want to know what is happening, and when. The Messy Middle is usually less about achievement and more about growth, in learning, in making sense of old habits and patterns to make room for new things. Be open to this.
4. Re-assure the parts of you that are craving their old safety that there is a reason for the journey, and that the larger you is in control and has their back. You may not have been “here” before, but that does not mean that “here” is bad.
5. Look for, and soak up the wonder and possibility of the magic in the Messy Middle. Explore with the eyes and heart of a child, loving and trusting that all will be well.
6. Feel the power of your own courage and let it fuel you. The path and the journey may not be totally easy, but there’s a strength in your decision to try something new and to forge a new path. Let it sustain you when you’re met with fear or uncertainty about your decision.
Enjoy the journey my friends. Let me know how I can support you in the Messy Middle, or wherever you may be.