The Messy Middle

I love the description of being stuck in the ‘messy middle’, it really resonates with me.  And this is where I find myself again, experiencing the messy middle.  Doubts and frustrations bubbling up, constant questioning, and feeling like everything is really hard work – argh!

I’m working on a big project which feels like it’s plateaued and I’m not sure whether my original plan will work out or if I need to pivot.  My inner critic has had a field day and I’ve had to do a lot of work on myself.  It feels rubbish, but I know it’s all part of the journey.

messy middle

What’s the messy middle?

For me, it’s when you’re right in the middle of a project or process and feel like you’re floundering.  You’ve lost the initial enthusiasm of starting out and you’re past the point of no return.  You must keep going, one step at a time, even though you’re not close enough to see the finish line yet.

The messy middle is a place filled with uncertainty, struggles, where you can feel tired, vulnerable and overwhelmed.  You want to avoid it, unfortunately, there’s no escape if you want to progress.  The middle isn’t pretty, but it is illuminating and full of essential realisations.  It’s the part where the magic happens, and you have to go through it to get to the end.

It’s part of the story

I’m reading ‘Rising Strong’ by Brené Brown and this morning, it was all about the messy middle.  Perfect timing!

Brené shared a story about a meeting she had with Pixar Studio where they likened the ‘messy middle’ to act two of their storytelling.  It’s the bit the writers find most challenging, but it’s critical to the story and can’t be missed out.

It’s the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell) made up of three acts and forms the framework of all great myths.

First, you’re called to the adventure and the rules are established.

Second, you look for a comfortable way to solve the problem, but you find out what it’s really going to take to get through.

Third, you’ve learnt the lesson and know what to do to move forward.

Brené describes the messy middle as a dark, vulnerable and turbulent place we will do anything to avoid it.  Unfortunately, it’s a non-negotiable part of the process.  Experience and success don’t give you an easy passage through it, they just provide you with the faith knowing you can navigate it.

What to do when you feel stuck

Recognise the messy middle is part of the journey and you can’t skip it.

Brene has a process she calls ‘The Rising Strong Process’.  The goal is to rise from failures and overcome hurt in a way that gives us wisdom and wholeheartedness.  She breaks it into three steps (which I’ve summarised):

The Reckoning: Walking into our story

Becoming aware of and getting curious about our emotions and feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave.

The Rumble: Owning our story

Being honest about the stories we are making up about the struggle.  Challenge them to determine the truth.  Identify what is self-protection and needs to change in order to move forward.

The Revolution

Write a new ending to our story based on the learnings.  Use this to transform ourselves and change how we engage with the world.

Gather your support network

I find at times like these, my support network is priceless.  Surround yourself with people who are on your side and supportive.  Those who will listen when necessary and hold you accountable when you need a reality check.  These are the people you can bounce ideas off and believe in you.  They will remind you, you are enough, and you’re heading in the right direction.

I’m lucky to have a business buddy and a mastermind group who will help me make sense of what’s happening.  Another great option is to have a mentor or coach to help keep you moving through your ‘messy middle’.  Contact me for a chat and find out how I can help you.

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