Navigating the messy middle

I’ve felt stuck in my life many times. There have been moments when I wasn’t sure about who I was in the chaos or who did I want to be? Especially when I moved to a different country and it needed me to start all over again. It felt like I had to rebuild my identity. I was no longer in my comfort zone and I no longer had the choice to not answer this question, so what do I want to do with my career? It was an uncertain and uncomfortable time for me – a time of transition. The way, I like to put it, a messy middle. I kept questioning – what is the right answer for me? Where do I even begin now? I was recently promoted and doing so well at my job and career back home but now it was like starting from scratch. The worst part of it all was that I felt I had lost my identity as I no longer had a job title to answer the question of, ‘So, what do you do?’ with. I no longer knew who I was or who I wanted to be. It was a clean slate – exciting yet scary, uncomfortable and overwhelming. Times of transition can make you feel this way. I stayed the course and rebuilt a new me that I am very proud of. I wear many hats and what connects it all is what do I choose to stand for. I am a designer, an artist and a coach. Today, I am going to share some insights that I’ve learned from my personal journey of navigating such messy middles. 

Can you relate to feeling stuck and perhaps if not always, at least sometimes it feels like you don’t even know what you want? What should you do next? Where should you be going? What’s the next step? What’s the right answer for you? How come everyone else seems to have figured it all out and here you are sitting and wondering what possible futures and directions are out there waiting for you to discover them. You seem to be stuck in this period of transition and overwhelm. You are in awe of the countless possibilities and you feel like you don’t have enough knowledge yet to make an informed decision. Being stuck here in such a period of transition and uncertainty is making you feel frustrated and you have begun to question your sanity.

Another reason why you might be questioning your intuition is because of the long and exhausting list of the expectations from the society, your social circle, your friends and your family. Everyone else seems to have it all figured out from where you are standing. You are wondering if there is something deeply wrong with you or your approach. Why you are the only one who doesn’t know what do you want. Even if you know what you want, and God forbid if it is one of those things that you are not allowed to want because it is out of the ordinary, not a well trodden path and that’s not how things work for the ordinary us – I hear you, loud and clear. Today, I want to invite you to look at things from a bird’s eye-view. Let’s dissect it and see it for what it is.

First of all, know that you are not an anomaly! You are so not the only one feeling frustrated and directionless. We ALL go through periods of transition at one point or another in our lives. Yes, all of us have to bear the burden of such uncertain and painful times in our lives. Whoever you are comparing yourself with in this moment, who seems to have figured it out, who is already where you want to see yourself – they have been where you are. This is exactly where they first started. This is where almost all of us start at one point or another in our lives. SO, it is normal. In fact, it is an important part of this whole journey of figuring out what you want in life and how to get there.

Before I say anything else, I really want to say that you are special. Don’t believe in the myth of ‘the ordinary you’. You are allowed to carve your own unique path however distinctive that path might be. It is all about the mindset. I’m sure you have heard the saying that you are your only limit. So, always pay good attention to the thoughts you are welcoming in. Your mindset plays the most vital role in times of transition. Pay attention to your thoughts and your feelings as they become your reality. You do have something valuable to share with the world and it is okay if you are only beginning to figure out what that is. What can you do about it is the next step. 

Instead of waiting to figure it out, I always encourage my clients to begin. Take the first step. It doesn’t have to be the right step. You just need to get yourself in action and gain some momentum. My encouragement is to take it all as one big experiment. Try a bunch of things, see what works and what doesn’t work for you. Stick to what is working and keep building on that. Instead of passively waiting to figure things out, get moving. Make some waves. Your path can, of course, look different than mine but this one thing has been in common among all of my clients’ journey. Spending too much time here in this territory of indecision and procrastination isn’t helpful. It could take you time to get where you want to go and that again is normal and unique to all of us but starting before you are ready always pays off in the end. The more you resist being in transition, the longer it takes to get out of this period of transition. 

Let’s talk about some of the possible next steps that you can probably take. So, if you are one of those people who don’t know where to begin and what to do. Understand that the dilemma of our century’s technological advancements and unlimited access to information has crippled us with a sense of overwhelm and information overload. It has made us believe that we don’t know enough yet. In my opinion, what we get wrong here is that we don’t need to know everything to begin. We only need to know enough to begin. It is never about finding the right answers, right from the start but it is about figuring out what works for us in our unique circumstances. We need to vow to becoming life-long learners but we also need to make a choice of beginning. Beginning somewhere, anywhere but beginning. Understand that not making a choice is also a choice.

Navigating times of uncertainty, overwhelm, frustration and transition makes us who we are. They teach us deeply valuable lessons about who we are and what we are made of. To put things in perspective for you, I am sharing the exact steps that I took to navigate the messy middle – a huge transformative time in my life when I choose to start my business soon after moving continents.

For you, being in transition might mean that you have just graduated and you are ready to dive in your relevant field but you are overwhelmed with all the expectations, the should do’s and of course, the debt and finances are also weighing heavily on your shoulders. Being in transition could also mean that you are about to finish your high school and are now gearing up to apply for universities and you are confused about which major to choose. Being in transition could also mean that you are employed full-time and hate your job. You would like to start a venture of your own and as this is a huge change and you need to consider many factors, you are feeling lost and overwhelmed. I am using transition as a blanket term here for any period of uncertainty but it is not limited to career related struggles. It could be a personal struggle and milestone.

Being in a period of transition also brings a lot of shame and stigma with it. We are social animals and we need to feel like we belong. That sense of belonging seems to be challenged when we are stuck in the uncertainty and transition. Just remember that we all start somewhere. Start small but start.

Here are the 15 steps that I recommend you take if you are stuck in this whirlpool of uncertainty too.

1.Map your centre

Beginning to understand yourself would be the first step. Right? So, make a list of what do you believe in. What would you like to stand for? What beliefs make you who you are? Having these as your north star is the most important part of this whole process of self-discovery and reinvention. No matter what decisions you are going to take; personal or professional, always pay attention to how well they are sitting with your core beliefs. Your values and beliefs are what is at the heart of you, the first step would be to map your centre. 

Once you’ve figured out what you are made of go even deeper and put it in perspective for yourself. Try to explain in a sentence or two about what it means for you. For instance, one of my guiding principles is giving ourselves permission. I believe our best work happens when we give ourselves permission to be a beginner, to be human, to be different and to make mistakes along the way too. It is about embracing the discomfort, the messy middle and uncertainty that comes up when we choose to walk through the unknown. 

2. List your strengths

Understanding your personal strengths would really help you in narrowing down what you can double down and where you might need to ask for help. Things that come easy to us, we don’t pay particular attention to them but focus all our attention on things that we need to get better. Things that come easy to us are our real strengths and we can use that information to guide our next steps. For instance, I am really good at learning new things quickly. This is a strength that I can double down on when I am making a plan of what needs to be done in order to get where I want to go. We’ll talk a bit more about making a concrete plan after a few more steps.

3. Make a note of your weaknesses

We are still in the phase of understanding ourselves and becoming self aware. Having a really good understanding of what your weaknesses are can set you free in many ways. Instead of focusing all your attention on finding ways to fix them, you’ll learn to not only accept them but also, learn to ask for help which is an important skill to learn. As an example, in my case it would be my recovering perfectionism. I used to obsess over getting things perfect right from the start but with this awareness, understanding and learning to do better, I have become a pretty good good enough-ist now. You get the picture of what I meant when I said, it sets you free in many ways? 

4. Research and find examples

Now that you have built a pretty good picture of who you are, what you stand for and against, what your personal strengths and weaknesses are, it is time to bring in some data. Make a list of people who you think have already figured it all out, the exemplary personalities that you look up to and the ones you end up comparing yourself with. Once you have made that list, pick the top 3 and read about their personal journeys of how they’ve made it. See where they started and how far they have come. Sometimes it can mean reading their stories. In the modern times, it can also mean reading their blogs, listening them on podcasts early on in their lives and careers. If like me, your exemplary person is the product of modern days as well, it can also mean scrolling way down on their instagram feed and see where and how they first started. The whole purpose of this research is to build up a real picture of the ups and downs they have been through to get where they are today. If you can, get in touch with them and set up an in-person or virtual coffee meet-up to ask them questions and learn more about the real struggles behind the scenes of their current ‘success’. 

5. Redefine success on your own terms

Redefine what it means to be successful for you on your own damn terms. I know how the society can make you belief that they have all the answers and their answers are the only right answers but trust me when I say this, that is NOT true. You get to choose! You have the power to choose and redefine success for yourself on your own terms. Don’t let the burden of expectations pull you away from who you know yourself to be and who you want to see yourself become. Allow yourself to redefine what would success look and feel like for you. I have a podcast episode on this very topic, if you are keen to hear that go here. (https://www.hirasahmed.com/living-your-truth-ep-15-defining-your-very-own-version-of-success/)

6. Figure out what you want 

Now that you have done the research and redefined success, it is time to name and claim what you really want. If you don’t know what you would like to do or who you would like to be, how can you expect yourself to know how will you get there? This is why, it is extremely important to name what you want and who you want to be on the other side of this transition. It doesn’t have to be the right answer. It just needs to be an answer so you can start taking action and figuring out in real time if it is in alignment with your beliefs, what you wanted and who you wanted to be.

7. Make a concrete actionable plan

It is time to make a concrete actionable plan to realise the dreams you have listed in the previous step. Make a plan that brings you forward. That is all what it needs to do. Bring you one step closer to your vision. Like I said before, it doesn’t necessarily need to be the right plan. It just needs to be a realistic plan that is actionable and that gets you in action. 

8.Everything is figureoutable

If you follow Marie Forleo, you must be familiar with this idea already that everything is figureoutable. That is so very true. If you put your mind, heart and soul into it and work hard, you can figure out anything that you want to. Believe that everything is figureoutable. Believe it is possible for you too to figure it all out! 

9. Stay open and curious

You have already made the plan and you are already taking steps to make it possible. At this point, I want you to stay open and curious to the other possibilities out there. But not necessarily deviating from your plan or questioning your own initial plan unless you have already collected enough data that your initial plan was flawed. You are, of course, welcome to improve it as you go and learn from your mistakes and your successes.

10. Experiment and explore

This step ties into the previous one perfectly. Keep experimenting a bunch of different things to realise the success that you are after. Stick to what works for you and let go of what doesn’t work for you. Take it all as one big experiment. 

11. Take consistent action

I’ve already stressed how taking action is important. I want to also stress how important it is to do it consistently. One of the bigger pieces of the puzzle of you surviving and triumphing these periods of transition is consistency. Taking action strategically is also important, not any action just for the sake of it but the ones that moves the needle most in your creative work and life and not the one that is being expected of you. Like I said before, you are allowed to carve out your own path that brings you fulfilment and joy to walk through.

12. Believe in yourself

Believe that you are capable of figuring it out. Believe that you are enough. Believe that you have what it takes. If you cannot believe in yourself, how on earth anyone else is going to believe you? Remember it is your job, first and foremost. 

13. Surround yourself with people who are on the same path as you

Your company matters. Who you spend your time with matters. Surround yourself with people who are on a similar to you path. This will not only allow you to keep finding motivation and strength to keep going but also, ongoing accountability which, in my opinion, is very important to keep taking consistent and strategic actions towards your dreams.

14. Share your experiences and story

I know how frustrating and scary it is to be stuck in such a period of transition like that. I am here today, sharing what I’ve learned so far with you in a hope to make you feel less alone and more hopeful. You sharing your story and experiences with someone else might become that single ray of hope that helps them find meaning and purpose once again in their life. Sharing our truth and our stories creates and holds space for other people’s similar experiences. And you never know, you might run into an unexpected opportunity there.

15. Rinse and repeat

Like most of things in life, periods of transition are also not linear phenomenons. Your individual journey might look entirely different than mine. These steps might change the course of your life and they might not. Take it all as one big experiment and keep rinsing and repeating. 

After all, periods of uncertainty, transition and transformation are the most painfully rewarding experiences of life. 

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