The messy middle sucks. Period. Full stop. Unfortunately, there is no way around it when going through a transformational change. 

I find myself once again, in the messy middle and I don’t like it one bit. Any change that is transformative in nature you can be assured will have a messy middle. I’ve never met anyone who likes it.

If like me you are in the messy middle (I’ll get to that in a second) let me say this: You are enough. You got this. I know it sucks. I know it’s hard. Whatever you do don’t quit yet. You will figure it out.

Often, we think of it as exclusive to personal change/development. However, the messy middle applies to business change as well. Whether a big project or an organizational change both are transformational in nature and can trigger a messy middle – no matter how well you plan. What exactly am I talking about? Not sure what I mean by messy middle?

It’s not a phrase I’ve created. It’s a known concept. As always, I’ll define it the way I see it. You may have a different definition. 

For me, it is when you have started down the path to change something in your personal life or in business, like a project, program, product launch or new role. Let me pause for a moment.

I’m trying to avoid the words like big or large as they are subjective. What may be a big change to you may be insignificant to someone else. I’ve found this to be the case both in business and life. There would be projects happening at work that I wouldn’t bat an eye at where other people struggled with the changes implemented and vice versa. Or have you ever shared something you were working through with a friend and they look at you like how can this be so hard for you?

Here is how I see the messy middle:

It happens during a transformational change. I define transformational change as something where you will be changing behaviors, thoughts and skills you’ve carried with you all your life. You’ll be learning things that make you uncomfortable and unlearning things you’ve grown up with all your life. 

Have you ever been working on a project and things start to veer off course or the obstacles in your way feel insurmountable? That is the messy middle.

Have you ever been working on yourself and you can’t see where the journey ends and at the same time you can’t turn around and go back to how things were as you know what you were doing wasn’t working or serving you.  That is the messy middle.

Have you felt like this image – everything all haywire and not sure what to do next – while you think everything should be straight and smooth? That is the messy middle.   


What the messy middle looks like

For me, when I’m in the messy middle my days feel long. I can’t see forward or back – I’m lost in a fog. The work is hard and sometimes draining. It feels like it will never end yet I continue by making small steps and progress each day.

I’m often asked, how long does it last?

There is no definitive answer or magic fix. There is no map to show you the way or 5 quick easy steps to get through it.  When it’s a transformative change there are no quick fixes that can get you through it except doing the work and this key skill:

Asking for help

Lean on others who have expertise and can guide you. Gather knowledge. Look things up. In the business world we called this pulling on the help chain. Whenever I’ve tried to go it alone while in the messy middle things usually got worse and took much longer than they should have if I had only asked for help.

That is exactly what I’m doing right now in my messy middle. I’m asking others for help. I’m networking and talking with mentors. I’m working with my therapist. I’m reading and learning lots.

The messy middle is not easy but it normal. It is a reason why so many people avoid major changes because as its uncomfortable and there is no set list of steps you can follow. However, avoiding or not changing because of fear of the messy middle has its own downsides as well. You stay stagnant. Business stays stagnant.

Growth comes from change. While the messy middle sucks at the same time it is worth it. Whether it was a big project at work or a change being made in my personal life, once I was through the messy middle, success was not only achieved but the final results were always better than I could have imagined.

While I’m in the thick of it right now, I look forward coming out the other side and reaping the rewards.


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