You Can’t Avoid the Middle
The beginning is the fun part. You’re fired up, a bit idealistic, and ready to get going. You have the ideas, you started working to bring them to life, but then, poof. You’re unsure of where to go and how to fit the pieces together.
The middle is where it gets murky. The idealism fades into skepticism and we’re tempted to give up. Don’t let fear win. For planners who thrive in organization, this isn’t a pleasant part of the process. But it’s a necessary one.
I started reading Rising Strong by Brene Brown last week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I had actually gotten it back in March as a birthday present, but I was finishing up Braving the Wilderness and The Artisan Soul, so here we are.
Needless to say, it’s as good as her other books and even though I’m only a couple of chapters in, I know it’s going to be one of those books filled with journaling in the margins.
One story, in particular, resounded with me, and it got me thinking on how the creative life is filled with those murky times where it’s difficult to make sense of your work.
She shared about a day spent with the leadership team at Pixar, and how the creative process for every project is always the same. They start strong, build out the characters and the basic storyline, then head into the difficult part of putting everything together and making sure it makes sense. The details are tweaked and twisted into something resembling the final cut, then they tweak some more.
This middle stage happens regardless of how experienced their team is. As the team explains, “absolutely no amount of experience or success gives you a free pass from the daunting level of doubt that is an unyielding part of the process.”
This unavoidable uncertainty and discomfort, paired with the vulnerability needed to create something truly special, happens every. Time.
You started the project, committed to finding a way through, and there’s no turning back. But now you’re filled with doubt. Will you really succeed? Will this be worth sharing? Is it good enough to share? Am I wasting my time?
Let’s debunk a few of those questions.
Will you really succeed?
Regardless if your project is considered a success by the world, the fact that you’ve finished is a success. When you push through the middle and come out on the other side a little beaten up but glowing, you’ve succeeded.
Will this be worth sharing?
This has two parts. Not everything we create needs to be shared. In the world of Instagram Stories and portfolios and the pressure to create a cohesive image, not everything needs to fit perfectly. Some things are just for you and your community.
Part two: I’d argue that a project (if meant to be shared publicly) is always worth sharing. Sure it may not turn out the way you want it to and it’s always scary releasing it into the world, but there’s value in it. If you help even a few people by sharing your work, it’s a success.
There are so many factors trying to prevent you from finishing your work and sharing it, whether with your community or online, that the act of even clicking “publish” is a success.
Is it good enough to share?
Always. It could be a low-quality recording or some paragraphs may not be as well formed as others, but the fact that you’re trying means you’re growing. We often get far too focused on making it perfect, but since perfection doesn’t exist we’ll need to “settle” for good.
Try your best, but then stop polishing it. Share it and be proud of yourself that you were brave enough to do it.
Am I wasting my time?
Never. No time spent creating and growing is wasted. Whether you share it widely or not, trying something new is never a waste of time. Don’t believe the little voice inside you that says this isn’t going to be worth it. It builds new skills, you grow as an individual, and you push through the doubt.
Leaving the Middle
These turbulent times in the middle are what make you stronger. Much like pushing through the last 10 minutes of a workout, if you never leave the point of comfort you’ll never grow. Experienced creatives feel this too! Doubt doesn’t discriminate by experience.
Once we push through this, it’s time to bring the pieces we’ve created into the light. The questioning starts and the temptation to go back into the shadows is nearly too much to bear, but we push through it. Why? Because creative endeavors are always worth it. Because this is where the growth occurs. Because the more we band together the stronger we are.
In order to leave the middle, we need to prepare ourselves with a set of tools. These tools will help us learn to embrace the uncomfortable nature of it and push through to create something incredible.
Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Remember this as you work to leave the middle. You won’t run out of ideas, and each idea will help motivate you to start, get through the middle, and finish strong.
Equip Yourself to Grow
Above all, learn to be okay with feeling uncomfortable. When we know that this is going to be hard and painful, it won’t be a surprise. While some may prefer to go into an experience fairly oblivious, that’s not always the best way. There’s being fully oblivious to every detail, then there’s being prepared for the emotional phases while remaining oblivious to the details needed to complete the task.
When you know it’s going to be uncomfortable, you’ll be better equipped to handle the details that seem to appear randomly when starting something new. The paperwork, the regulations, the design, the coding… whatever it could be.
This is a big one: handling self-doubt. Don’t ignore the doubt; that gives it power over you. We need to face it and recognize that a, this is something EVERYONE experiences so you’re definitely not alone, and b, when we stare doubt down we remove the power it has over us.
Every piece I write, episode I record, and image I design brings doubt. Doubt won’t leave, but that shouldn’t be a sad thing. It’s exciting and encouraging to see our growth over time, and that comes from embracing the experience instead of ignoring it.
Focus on affirmations throughout your day. Tell yourself that you’re skilled, you’re learning and growing, and that you’re worthy of feeling confident.
Then, keep your forward momentum by doing one thing every day to help you reach your goal. In the murkiness of the middle, it’s so easy to put it all off waiting for the moment when it all comes together.
That’s not going to happen, though, if we don’t take actions towards bringing it all together. These small actions add up and give you the confidence needed to tackle the larger steps needed.
When you take action to leave the middle, you give yourself permission to achieve something incredible. I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say leaving this area is easy, but it’s always worth it.
Organizing & Clarity
When it comes to actually organizing your thoughts and turning it into something resembling your goal, there are a few specific actions to take that can help bring clarity to the situation.
Sit in it and experiment until it happens. When I’m particularly stuck I’ll write out my ideas on pieces of paper and physically rearrange them until inspiration strikes. Computers are great, but sometimes you just have to use tactile learning to get everything out and in the order you like.
Another one of my favorites but also not-so-favorites (because it works but it’s not always very enjoyable) is to schedule time for it. Sometimes inspiration strikes at random times, and others it comes because we put ourselves in a position to take it and work through it.
Make an appointment with yourself like you would with a friend or client, and stick to it. Go to your favorite coffee shop, sit in a park, curl up into your couch, or head wherever you can focus. Take your ideas, notes, and whatever else you have for your idea and force yourself to think through different ways you could finish creating it.
Some days you may make great strides towards your goals and others it may be like you’re slogging through the mud but the most important thing is that you’re there. You’re investing into your creativity and honoring the process.
It’s not easy or thrilling or exciting, but it works. Simple as that. Put in the time, and you’ll see the results. There’s no substitute for the hard work it takes to bring a goal to life. It may seem murky in the middle, but it’s always worth pushing through and seeing the final result.
It’s essential that we embrace this process because it will be present as long as we endeavor to create something new. The life we’ve found is filled with twists and turns, and it’s time we begin appreciating these experiences for what they are, instead of lamenting everytime we find ourselves in “the middle”.
Appreciate the middle for what it is: an incredible opportunity for growth. When we do that, we can begin to embrace who we are, what we can accomplish, and our unique views on the world. I promise you, it’s worth it.