When I sit down to engage in this little annual life review exercise each year, I never know where it’s going to take me. I usually have a sense of what I think the tone of it will be. Then I find myself hurtling along a completely different thought trajectory. This year is no different. At least that part of this process is consistent.
Those of you who have followed me a long time know that I reread my previous birthday posts for perspective before I start plugging away at writing the current year’s. Considering where I am now at 51 and looking back at the beginning of this project—my life as is stood in 2011 at age 40—that first post feels like a hundred lifetimes ago. The path between those two points is a convoluted, twisting, swirling tangle unlike anything I could have ever guessed it would be.
That’s not a shocker, right? I suppose some people set forth on a path in life that doesn’t wiggle all that much from the original one they set out on, but I’m pretty sure that’s not most of us.
Having completed my highlight-reel review of where I’ve been over the long haul and now sitting down to have a look at where I am now I always ask myself if I’ve I spent my time well over the last year. Have I honored my values? What did I do well? Where can I improve? You get the idea—it’s a self-assessment that helps me calibrate and make sure I don’t wake up one morning years from now wondering where my life went.
As usual, those answers are a mixed bag. The details vary from year-to-year but what I look for most are trends, good or bad, and make a mental note to embrace or fix them over the coming year. What I have to acknowledge for myself in answering these questions this year is that right now is that I’m deeply immersed in a transition phase of life in a way I never have been before. Not losing sight of the big picture while in the midst of the turmoil is going to be my biggest challenge over the next few years as I make my way through this. Which made me realize that I am in (ta-dah!!!)—the messy middle.
The messy middle
When I talked about my mantra of “keep moving forward” a couple of years ago, I didn’t really articulate that the path forward isn’t linear. If you’ve been following along, you know that is especially true for me at this stage—navigating the journey of a complete life reinvention across the major facets of work, home, and community. In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a lot to take on at once. The process has been a complex mix of progress and stuck-ness, successes, and setbacks.
And here I am on my 51st birthday, smack dab in the messy middle of all of it. I’m mentally staring at all of the pieces of this extraordinary puzzle that still need to be put in place to create the life I set out to make for myself in this reconstruction phase. And, of course, wondering if some of those pieces are missing as I bump into obstacles. In the supreme WTF moments, I wonder if a mystical “life cat” has jumped across the virtual puzzle table, scattering the pieces to the corners of the universe. There have certainly been plenty of those moments over the last year.
So what is the path forward when you’ve got multiple, complex “life” projects in the works, all demanding urgent attention?
I suppose it falls under the “Eat the Elephant” category. Unpleasant imagery aside, the advice is sound. For me, the first part of breaking this all down into manageable chunks is accepting that this is a long play. That’s hard for me. I get very frustrated when it feels like it’s taking too long, when there has been no progress, or elements of the projects aren’t coming together. I have to acknowledge that I need to manage my expectations about what can be accomplished over a given period. Yet I’m also extremely wary of becoming complacent about not making progress and discovering down the road that the messy middle turned into the normal state of my life. In the end, that’s what this whole exercise is about—to make sure I’m not letting life just happen to me but that I’m living it deliberately.
It’s going to take diligence to make sure I don’t get stuck in limbo and emerge from this chaotic, messy middle having reaped the rewards of the effort.
And, of course, that’s not going to happen if I don’t get back to it so off I go.
Keep moving forward, friends, one bite at a time.