When you set a goal that requires you to stretch and grow beyond your current, comfortable state, you expect that there will be some discomfort involved. This expected discomfort is manageable.
However, any journey that truly requires you to evolve into a better version of yourself will include a deconstruction of the current version of yourself. It is the part of the process where the caterpillar, inside its chrysalis, is no longer a caterpillar, and is not yet a butterfly. It’s the part where it is currently somewhere between the two versions of itself. It’s the part where the caterpillar might question this whole chrysalis/ transformation process. And yet, it can neither turn back into a caterpillar, nor can it fast-forward to its butterfly stage. It is in the messy middle.
During a “messy middle” moment in my life, I wrote the following in my journal:
"I am in the river of misery. I left the safety of shore with no plan, but with a hope that I would like me better, and be able to help others when I reached the other side. Now the waves are high, and the water's cold and murky, and I feel lost and tired, and inadequate to finish the swim. I don't want to go back, because I know that that shore is no longer for me. But the other shore seems very far, and I don't quite believe that I have the skills and fortitude to get there. And, I honestly wonder if it even matters. I'm thinking that I jumped in a river where only the big dreamers, the visionary, the driven, the ambitious can successfully cross. I'm in here doggy paddling and struggling to keep my head above water. I should be in the kiddie pool, where the extent of my discomfort is being splashed by other people."
Messy middle moments are NOT fun. They are the unexpected discomfort that is required for your transformation. But, if you interpret this unexpected discomfort as evidence that you don’t have what it takes, or that this was all a mistake, or that something has gone terribly wrong, you might panic and turn back, or turn aside— forgetting in that moment what drove you to begin this journey in the first place.
Beware the unexpected discomfort. When it arrives, recognize that it is proof of your progress. Remember that you can handle any emotion. Take time to feel the emotions. Be in the moment with them. Ugly cry if you need to. Pray. Take a nap or call a trusted friend. Then, press forward. Press on. Press through. Because, on the other side of that messy middle, you will have transformed into the person you needed to become in order to achieve your desired result.
What emotions are you willing to feel in pursuit of your goal?
On a sticky note or a 3x5 card write “In pursuit of my goal, I am willing to feel these uncomfortable Emotions …” then list every emotion you are willing to feel along the way. Some emotions to consider: self-conscious, embarrassed, vulnerable, exposed, incompetent, humiliated, uncertain, nervous, frustrated, fearful, disappointed, defeated, self-doubt, cluelessness, loneliness, frustration.
Place this sticky note or 3x5 card in a place where you will see and read it often. Move it to a new place each week or month.
The Life of a Goal:
In my experience, most goals tend to follow a general path.
We decide what result we want and write it down.
We start strong and enjoy what I call a honeymoon phase. This is where the excitement of the desired result and the untested motivation are carrying you forward.
At this point, the shiny newness of the pursuit wears off and it begins to feel like work. Many people quit at this point.
Those who stick with their efforts begin to feel the discomfort of growth and change. They expected it would be this way. So, they press on, with their focus on the result they are seeking.
Those who have continued forward begin to see evidence of progress.
With evidence of progress, they continue to do the work and gain momentum.
With the evidence of progress and the momentum they’ve gained, it feels like success is inevitable and oh, so close.
Now comes the UNexpected discomfort. This is when the real challenge begins. This is when you face unanticipated obstacles, complications, and resistance. This is the messy middle.
This is where you may question if all of this effort is worth the sacrifice. Many throw in the towel, believing that it shouldn’t be this hard or that it isn’t working. They decide they just aren’t cut out for it; or that it just wasn’t meant to be.
For those who press onward, this is where things begin to “click” or to “fall into place.”
Finally, the goal has been realized.