THE MESSY MIDDLE

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I’ve been trying something new this year. An integrative medical technique known as Rolfing. I won’t go into all the details, but the short explanation is that it is deep tissue body work. I signed on for a series of 10 sessions which was recommended by the practitioner. I absolutely loved sessions one through three. I left feeling an ease of motion and lack of pain. I was pretty sure this was the answer I had been seeking to irritating low back and hip pain. And trust me when I tell you I’d been seeking an answer for quite some time! Then along came sessions four, five, and six. I experienced aches, dis-ease and some emotional discomfort that I didn’t expect. I wasn’t pleased. What had happened? Where was the lightness and freedom of movement I had felt in the beginning?

I was sharing all of this during the session six work when a thought suddenly struck me….”This is how I respond to the middle.” I recalled that during my coach training, which happened over three day weekend intensives, that I followed a similar pattern each time. Fridays were exciting, full of anticipation about the new learning. I felt a bit of an energetic buzz around what was about to unfold. Saturdays were the worst. I started feeling some doubt about my abilities to master the new tools, and confusion was the reigning emotion. Saturday nights I typically felt some combination of overwhelmed and exhausted. And then, hallelujah for Sundays! That was the day that it all seemed to click. To come together. I loved everything I had learned and everyone I was learning with. I recognized this as a pattern after the third or fourth weekend of training, and although I recognized it, it still played out the same each time. This was my experience regardless of how I prepared going in. The middle was always tough going.

Laying on the table for my Rolfing session, I began to connect the dots. My body was responding the same way my emotions did during those coach trainings. My brain was sending the same messages about this process. Beginning = new, exciting. Middle = hard, uncomfortable. End = joy, success.

I started thinking about all of the “middle” things that can be hard to deal with.

The middle seat on the airplane.

The middle of a book where the protagonist is winning.

Waistlines.

Mile 13.1 of a marathon.

Leadership.

As a leader I experienced great anticipation when a new project or initiative was underway. I was motivated by the excitement of the team that was coming alongside for the journey. A well thought out, well communicated strategy that employees can grab ahold of can create a positive buzz and be re-energizing for an organization. Likewise, there are the feelings of satisfaction and success a leader or team feels when something has been completed. A program executed well, a finish line crossed. Deep breathing. Celebration. But what about the middle? What happens when you’re too far from the beginning to sustain the excitement but not close enough to the end to feel the joy of success? What happens there?

Here’s what I’m learning can happen for me and maybe this is true for you, too. That this “middle” is the part I most need to lean into. That there is the most to be gained right in the middle of the mess. This is where I learn and grow. This is where the discomfort (which is totally irritating to me) is pointing directly at the thing I need to focus on to get stronger. In the case of my body, it turns out my back pain is actually linked to an old ankle sprain. Once that ankle started aching we discovered the place where the work really needed to be done.

I’ll be honest. This is a hard lesson for me to learn. It seems I have to be taught repeatedly how unavoidable and how necessary this part of the process is. I’ve actually had a reminder, in the form of an infographic by John Saddington, posted in front of my desk for the past year telling me that creating requires me to go through the middle. Right in front of me! And still, it took my body to find another way to send me this message.

In case a visual might be helpful to you, you can check out The Emotional Journey of Creating Anything Great by clicking below.

Should you find yourself in what John calls “the dark swamp of despair”, try diving deeper to see what you might find there. What connections can you see? What will you discover. For me, this old song keeps looping in my mind reminding me that, “The ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone. and the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone.”

The middle path is the way to wisdom.
— Rumi