Finding Joy In The Messy Middle


This essay first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. If you’d like to subscribe for a big old dose of positivity in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up here.

I was speaking to my husband this week about how in a lot of ways, I feel like I’m in a bit of a limbo period right now. When I look at the different areas of my life, each one feels in flux. It’s like I’m shaking off old versions of myself, but I’m not quite ready to step into the new ones yet.

I’m working hard to build a business, but I’m not quite at the point of doing my dream job everyday. We know that our current house isn’t our forever home, but we’re not quite ready to move on. I no longer feel like the term “twenty something” is for me, but I’m still yet to enter my thirties.

It’s a strange feeling, and one I can remember experiencing about 5 or 6 years ago. I can vividly remember knowing what I wanted my next milestones to be (a career move, buying our own home, getting engaged), but there was a period of work and saving and patience that had to come first.

The same is true for me now. After years of soul searching and reflection, I finally have a strong vision for the future that I want. For perhaps the first time ever, I’m certain that the dreams I have are mine and mine alone, not influenced by other people’s achievements or guided by the expectations that society has for me. I know what I want, and I’m working hard to get it. And yet, I’m not quite there just yet.

I lovingly refer to this part of the change process as the messy middle. It’s a better place to be than at the start of the change, when you’re overwhelmed with options and don’t know where to begin. But it still has it’s frustrations. Sometimes when you know what you want, it can be pretty hard to accept that you don’t have that just yet.

It’s tempting when you’re in the messy middle to do everything you can to race through it. To put your head down and hustle, hustle, hustle. To put the barriers up and get laser focussed on you goal. And it can be tempting to put life on hold until you get there, promising yourself that you’ll be happy when you achieve whatever you’re working towards, that all the joy you’re sacrificing right now will be waiting for you on the other side.

That’s certainly the approach I’ve taken in the past. I’ve postponed my happiness, assuring myself that I’ll be able to claim it all back at a future date. But that’s not how life works. All we have is right now, and we have to find a way to make the most of that no matter what period of life we’re in. If we’re truly going to make the most of these precious lives we’re lucky enough to have, we have to commit to finding joy every single day, even in the messy middle.

And so that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. Amongst the hard work and the saving and the change and the overwhelm, I’m squeezing out every drop of joy I can get. Just because I don’t have my dream job right now doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy my work and challenge myself. Just because we won’t live in this house forever doesn’t mean I can’t feel bloody lucky to get to call it home right now. Just because I can see a new chapter of my life opening up on the horizon, it doesn’t mean that I can’t have a brilliant time wrapping up this one.

I wanted to get these thoughts down here on the page today in case you too are experiencing your own messy middle. In case you too feel tempted to lock yourself away and work yourself to the bone in order to reach your next big milestone. Because the truth is, these hours, these days, these weeks? This is all time that we’re not getting back. We won’t get to relive these moments again once we have a bigger house or a better job or whatever it is your striving for.

So please know, whatever life currently looks like for you, you’re worthy of joy. You’re worthy of it regardless of whether you achieve those goals you’re working towards or not. You’re worthy of it whether you’re at the challenging start or the messy middle or the glorious achievement.

So today, shake off the to do list. Lift your head up for a little while, and do something that brings you joy. And notice how it feels to enjoy life, right here, right now, in the midst of imperfection. That’s living.