The middle is where it dies



Usually when I start some great new initiative, it takes off with a bang, only to die in the middle.

Or, perhaps its demise comes closer to the beginning than I care to admit.

The beginning and the end of a project feel great. I love being connected to a bigger vision, ushering in a new season. But when I’m in the “vast middle,” the starting line and the finish line are nowhere to be seen. The middle feels worlds away from the anticipation of a new adventure or the pleased relief that comes from a job well done. All I feel is the nagging pain of now. The joy of starting has long been replaced by the pain of sustaining. The reason for starting or finishing is a distant memory.

There are many causes of this situation, but one is what I call first-half fatigue. My enthusiasm caused me to over-perform early instead of pacing myself and stewarding my energy for the long run of the second half. Perhaps (for sure) I underestimated the amount of work or effort it would take to complete what I had started. 

One reason for this is what I call first-half fatigue…

Another reason my projects go to the halfway point and then die is that I see no return on my labor in the middle. No fruit shows up in the middle of the growing season- it all comes at the end. Halfway through, I am neck deep in invested labor but only ankle deep in returns. Maximum input with zero output is a recipe for discouragement. 

Also, when you are stuck in the middle everything looks the same as it did yesterday. It’s like an endless stream of Wednesdays, with no Fridays in sight. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays mysteriously got deleted from the next three months of my calendar. It’s GroundhogDay all over again, where forward motion is nearly undetectable. Slowly that drive which previously motivated me, inspired me and moved me has turned into drowsiness. In this state, my own mind turns against me. Those around me, the ones I’ve convinced to join me on this adventure, start to question the reason we embarked in the first place. In the middle, I start to lose heart. Even worse, my team begins to lose heart. Mutinous rumors are whispered in the dreary hold of my ship, while the captain fights his own doubts on the bridge. The nay-sayers are waxing poetic. My supporters are rapidly becoming detractors, and I begin fighting everyone else, even as I fight myself. 

In the middle, nothing looks like it was, or like it will be. The good idea that christened this journey has become stale. The champagne has soured and gone flat. 

This morass does not only affect people.  All around us, systems break down in the middle. Bugs and glitches that existed in the beginning become visible in the middle and need dealt with. And it almost unfailingly comes at a time of high fatigue and low buy-in. When the journey feels the longest, that’s when ill-designed processes become apparent. The holes that appear do not only need patched: they need redone. Of course, due to busyness and distractions, this revision never happens,  and in the middle of the next journey I remember what I should have fixed in the previous one. 

The middle is the place where character is exposed and developed. The raw ore we mine in the middle of the journey is refined and invested at the end of it. The lessons we learn the hard way stick with us long after the pain of learning these lessons has subsided. 

So I’ve learned the hard way, the expensive way, to measure progress on invisible projects. And this has been the key for me- to devise methods of measuring forward progress when the surrounding scenery is deceptively similar. If we are on the right path, then having an accurate way to pay attention to distance covered is vital to keeping us going toward the last part of the journey- the ultimate destination.  

© 2023 Mark Whitmore

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Mark Whitmore

Mark Whitmore

Mark Whitmore is the Head Coach and founder of Lodestone True North, a dynamic firm of experienced business coaches who help entrepreneurs and managers get to their Land of Awesome.

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