If your social media feeds are anything like mine, you see a lot of photos of people living their best lives. They are vacationing on beautiful beaches. Rocking the TED stage. Hosting their own events. Launching books and programs. Closing one deal after the next. It’s an endless parade of “life keeps getting better.”
Just dream it, and it will come. Set a big goal. Manifest your intentions. Push through your fear.
That’s all you need, right?
The filtered images. The slick landing pages. The bold promises that are revealed to be hollow.
The feeling that everyone has figured out life. Everyone, that is, except for you.
It can be demoralizing, debilitating, depressing.
Especially when you know, deep down, that they are not smarter or more talented or more disciplined than you.
Because that only makes you wonder: what’s wrong with me?
Nobody Talks About the Dark Times
Everyone has a story about how difficult it was for them at some point. The road to success that was paved with obstacles and failure.
I’m human too, they say.
They may even show you some well-curated photos of their life “before” all their success; to sharpen the contrast with the polished after.
Most people talk about the hard times only when they are on the other side. Then they share glimpses of that time before they figured it all out. Before they found their calling.
The Messy Middle
Nobody talks about the messy middle. Nobody shows you what that looks like.
That’s because nobody wants to look at it while they’re in it.
Everyone shows the butterfly. How many pictures do you see of the cocoon?
People show the picture of the baby in mom’s arms in the hospital, when everyone is cleaned up. Nobody shows you the pictures of the baby coming out in all the mess.
Well, not nobody. Years before the selfie and the made-for-Instagram moments, my father snapped photos as I was being pulled out of my mother’s body by my legs (yes, breech delivery).
Maybe that was a sign that it would be my calling to share the messy middle. The pain of emergence. Nobody talks about this.
Welcome to the messy middle.
This is What it Looks Like
One step forward. Three steps back.
A breakthrough, followed by a breakdown. A path paved with black holes and minefields and invisible traps. And then a clearing with flowers and magic and fairy dust sprinkled everywhere.
Flashes of illumination, followed by tunnels of darkness.
Pushing a rock uphill by yourself.
Late nights. Early mornings. Dragging your weary and battered body to the gym because you know that’s what it needs.
No energy followed by bursts of energy.
Hours of sitting until you can’t sit. Hours of walking until you can’t stand.
Blank pages. Blank screens. Blank mind.
An endless flow of ideas that comes so fast you can’t keep up. You’re writing and dictating two different things at the same time.
Mascara running down your face.
Paper cuts. Broken nails and broken pens and a broken heart.
Buckets of tears.
This is What it Feels Like
A lump in your throat. A hole in your heart. A pit in your stomach.
Hand cramps and foot cramps.
Joy and exuberance. The thrill of victory.
Sadness. Loneliness. Emptiness.
Especially if you’re single. When you’re single and you have a bad day, there’s nobody there to take it away. Nobody to remind you of who you are and what you’re made of and what you have inside you. You have to fight the voices in your head all by yourself.
It feels like you’re too much. And not enough. At the same time.
Sometimes it feels like everyone gets it. They need what you have.
And sometimes it feels like nobody gets it. Nobody gets you.
There are moments when every step feels like a further descent into shame and despair. Where the hopelessness strangles you and the doubts suffocate you.
You gasp for air as you try, desperately, to hang on to the rope as the ends fray apart and your hand cramps and you slowly lose your grip.
You fall back into the dark and lonely waters.
The picture that was once so vivid in your mind is further away and more faded than ever before, like a faded photocopy of a photocopy from long ago.
This is the worst pain: the pain of failing to meet your own standards. The pain of letting yourself down.
This is What it Sounds Like
What’s wrong with me?
You’re not capable of doing this.
Who do you think you are?
Why is it so easy for everyone else?
This is brilliant. This is the dumbest idea ever.
Everyone needs this. Nobody needs this.
What’s wrong with everyone?
People are so dumb.
I’m such an idiot.
Why did I ever think this would work?
Why did I think this was a good idea?
Maybe they were right.
This will never end.
I should give up.
This is How You Get Out
Did you think I was going to give you some quick-fix escape plan? There’s no out. That’s why nobody talks about the messy middle.
There’s no escape from this. You get out only by staying in.
This is How You Stay
- Get the fuck off of all your social media feeds and stay out of your email. Stop looking at fake pictures and stop reading empty promises. I’m serious about this one. If you do nothing else, do this.
- Sit in stillness and listen for the faint echoes of the calling you once heard. Turn up the volume until you hear the voice shouting in your ear and reminding you who you are and what you’re here to do.
- Run. Walk. Swim. Bike. Climb. Bounce. Move. Breathe. Get in your body and out of your head. Pump up the music and dance like the world will end tomorrow.
- Listen to the voice of wisdom that reminds you that this pain you feel is the gift you will bring to the world. Your willingness to be in it, and to acknowledge it to yourself, creates the magic that will help you heal others.
- Remember who you are. Remember why you’re here. You have something amazing and beautiful to offer this world. It is real. Remember this. Find someone else who already knows it and can remind you.
- Give up just for today. Pack it in. Call it a day.
- Wake up tomorrow. No snooze. No email. No social media. Hit the gym. Get in the flow. Stick to your rituals. And rock it out.
Most of all, remember this: you don’t need to find your gift.
You are the gift.