The Gap between Who you are now and Who you’re Becoming…
Navigating the ‘Messy Middle’
Change comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes welcome… sometimes not so much. If there’s one certainty in life we can all count on, it’s that change will happen!
The kinds of change I’m talking about can be categorised as follows:
Natural life transitions: These include organic life stages such as reaching a milestone age.. hello 40, 50, 60!, kids getting older and not needing us so much, experiencing an empty nest, entering the menopause with all the physical and emotional turmoil that brings, etc.
External events driven by an internal desire for change: These include events such as a career change, promotion or progression, leaving a marriage or relationship, going back to school to study, starting a new business, moving to a new town or country, etc.
External events beyond our control: These changes include unexpected, often unwelcome events such as the death of a parent or loved one, a scary health diagnosis, your husband deciding he wants a divorce after a long marriage, losing your job or business, etc.
Whatever the catalyst for change, one thing these categories have in common is that they ignite a shift in our identity.
They literally alter our sense of who we are in the world.
Whenever we undergo any kind of significant change in our lives, we enter a process of psychological metamorphosis that has four distinct, and well documented, phases.
Today I want to discuss Phase One – because it is arguably the hardest and most uncomfortable stage. It’s a phase I have recent personal experience of – I wrote about it here. And it’s a place I see my clients struggle to navigate and make sense of.
A major reason this type of change feels so uncomfortable is because it forces us to undergo a kind of death and rebirth.
We enter a process of becoming a new version of ourselves.
By it’s very nature, it necessitates the ‘before’ version of us to ‘die’ before our new, more evolved self can be ‘reborn.’
Let me share an example from my own life…
My Own Metamorphosis
Ten years ago I unwittingly thrust myself headlong into Phase One when I left my 22 year marriage and my corporate career of the same length, within a few months of each other.
Even though these long-considered changes were wanted and consciously chosen by me, in making them, I vastly under-estimated the impact this significant shift in my identity would have.
— I was no longer a wife
— I was no longer an employed corporate professional
Oh, and I’d also lost my beloved dad, nine months previously.
These roles were a big part of who I was ‘before change.’
They felt familiar. And safe.
I knew how to be a wife. And a corporate employee. And my dad’s daughter.
These roles formed a major part of my identity.
By design, I was choosing, and required to step into, the ‘after’ version of me:
— A single woman in my mid-40s
— A single mother to my three boys
— A self-employed coach in a brand new career
— The sole breadwinner for my family
— A dad-less daughter
The problem was, I had no idea how to do or, importantly, ‘be,’ this new version of me yet.
I hadn’t fully upgraded the thoughts, beliefs and aspirations about myself that were necessary in order to ‘become’ this person.
Phase One Territory
When the discomfort that goes with the territory of Phase One fully kicked in, I railed against it and unconsciously longed for the familiarity of the ‘old’ me – the one I was comfortable, if unhappy, inhabiting.
I vividly remember the extreme discomfort, resistance and confusion I experienced during this time.
I literally felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore…
Because I didn’t!
What I now know is that I was experiencing a natural part of the change process.
In this phase, we’re no longer who we were – there’s no going back to that version of us.
We can no longer tolerate the status quo – even if we wanted to!
And we’re not yet who we’re going to be.
In order to become the next version of who we are capable of being, we must release and move beyond the limiting thoughts and beliefs holding us back.
We must peel back, face and heal another layer of our fear and self-doubt.
It’s no wonder we experience resistance and discomfort – Phase One is not for the faint of heart!
This is what it means to be stuck in the ‘messy middle’ between who we were and who we are and want to become.
Can you relate?
So, how best to navigate this (let’s be honest) shitty, in-between place when we find ourselves here?
How can we allow ourselves to progress towards Phase Two, the much more welcome stage, where we begin to dream, scheme, imagine and plan, and see the first green shoots of our new life and self?
Here are my best tips:
- Get comfortable with the discomfort of change – accept that how you’re feeling is natural and normal – expect it. Allow your conflicting thoughts and emotions to be present. Don’t resist or deny them – this will only lengthen your stay in Phase One! Trust that ‘this too shall pass’
- Allow yourself to grieve the ‘old’ you and your old life. Even if you’ve left a dissatisfying job or an unhappy relationship, you’ll likely still experience the myriad emotions that are the natural, human response to any loss
- Resist the temptation to re-capture your old life or recreate a similar scenario – it’s simply your brain’s way of trying to return you to your comfort zone and escape your uncomfortable emotions
- Stay in the present moment as much as possible and avoid making long-term decisions or plans. Trust that clarity will begin to emerge as you move out of Phase One and into Phase Two
- Find a trusted confidante or advisor who understands what you’re going through and can provide practical and emotional support and encouragement – and reassure you that you’re not going crazy!
What have you found most helpful when navigating change in your own life?