Navigating the “Messy Middle” of Life

For forty years, the roles of family caregiver and business professional have been interwoven in my life. One area I’m frequently asked to share about is how to navigate the transitions in each and both. In my early years, I would have said, “Not well.” I’ve learned a lot and now I’m able to honestly answer: “Well.”

I’d like to share insight about the ‘messy middle’, that part of your path where you’re moving on to what’s next, but you’re not there yet. You’re not sure what it will look like when you get there, how you’ll feel about it, or who you’ll be when you’re on the other side.

As a family caregiver, we have the added layer of navigating transitions in multiple roles of our lives that are all intertwined with choices we make because caregiver is one of our roles. For example, In the navigation of my professional career I chose to step away from full-time corporate employment so I had capacity to focus on responsibilities I accepted and embraced as a family caregiver. During the frustrating moments, there are a variety of thoughts and emotions swirling around – few of them supporting and encouraging myself. “Maybe the old way wasn’t so bad after all.”, “I don’t think I can do this.”, “Why is so much going wrong?” Can you relate?

I’m sharing several powerful supports I learned to calm the messy middle, clarify its purpose in my life, and strengthen me during this time through transition.

The first and most important tip is to give yourself grace upon grace.

You’re shifting from something you’re used to (whether or not you like it). It’s often a habit, so you’re not even fully aware of it because it’s what you automatically do without fully thinking about it. One option is to reach out to someone who has traveled before you, gone through their ‘messy middle’, and come through. While your journeys will be different, their insights will introduce you to new things you may not have been aware of. Remember – if you can see something in others, it’s because you already possess it in yourself – even if you haven’t yet realized it. Explore with unquenchable curiosity and see what you find!

Breaking down your transition into smaller and smaller pieces until each one is manageable.

Whenever it begins to feel overwhelming, stop and ask yourself how you can break it down into even smaller pieces until it’s manageable. This often includes giving yourself permission to include others who can help with pieces of your transition.

Take a step back for clarity and ask yourself questions about your specific transition.

Here are four great questions to ask yourself:

  1. Stated in the positive, specifically what do I want?
  2. For what exact purpose do I want this?
  3. Specifically, what will I see, hear and feel when I achieve it?
  4. What will this outcome get for me or allow me to do?

When I was introduced to Cartesian Logic, which originated from French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), it shifted how I considered perspectives. Here are 4 questions that invite you into a
variety of perspectives:

  1. What will happen if I achieve my goal?
  2. What will happen if I don’t achieve my goal?
  3. What won’t happen if I achieve my goal?
  4. What won’t happen if I don’t achieve my goal?

Finally, ask yourself the Gary W. Keller question (Gary Keller is the founder of the largest real estate firm in the world by agent count): “What is the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

You can make it through the messy middle! It has lots of valuable lessons that, once you’re through, you’ll find actually strengthen you and build your resilience.

Sue Ryan is a SPEAKER/STORYTELLER, EDUCATOR, COACH, MENTOR, AUTHOR on a mission to empower and embolden leaders to maximize the opportunities and potential change will bring. Check out her wonderful book for caregivers on our WCN Author’s Page!

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