Don’t start a podcast.
(There are 730,000 of them already.)
Don’t write a book.
(There are 1,052,803 published…every year.)
Don’t launch a business.
(There are 550,000 new entrepreneurs…monthly.)
Here’s the deal:
Don’t do any of these, unless of course —you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Because I’m here to tell you:
The odds are not stocked in your favor unless your idea of success is putting your entire net worth on Red 27 at the roulette table.
In today’s post, I’m going to reveal a crucial concept (and centering question) to ensure you don’t wind up being another statistic.
Because if you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons, the worst thing you can do is start with a half-hearted approach.
But if you do it right, not only can you experience the deep fulfillment that comes with sharing your work with the world…
You can experience world class results, too.
Anyone Can Get Started, Few Can Endure
I remember standing in a crowd of people in Killington, VT at 4:30AM as thousands of athletes got prepared to attack the Spartan Ultra Beast.
As it sounds, this is the most intense race the Spartan brand puts on:
Around 30 miles of hiking the steepest double black mountains in Vermont for two days and one bone-chilling night.
Predictably, the energy at the starting line was palpable. Caffeinated and excited, the music blared and people hopped up and down like energizer bunnies.
This is normal for what happens at the start of any endeavor: endless enthusiam.
When you look to your left, and you look to your right —two out of the three (including you) won’t be there at the end of the race.
This is true for the Spartan Beast (the pass rate at the time of my race was 15%) and mostly anything else:
As Angela Duckworth, author of Grit says:
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”
So, what can you do with this?
Don’t waste all of your energy on starting —and don’t celebrate too much.
Sure, there is power in making a decision and having the courage to get in the game.
But it’s only the start of what’s going to be a long, hilly and unpredictable path.
Because after you start, you quickly hit the place where 99% of people give up: the messy middle.
The Messy Middle Of The Long Game
It hit me at Mile 7 as I wiped another bead of sweat off my face and thought to myself:
This is going to be a grind.
Of course, I already knew this —you can’t have a 15% pass rate on any race and think it’s going to be easy.
Especially knowing how curated the signups are: this isn’t your local 5K.
At Mile 7, the enthusiasm of the early morning fist-bumping EDM music was now a forgotten memory:
I was officially in the messy middle.
Of course I’m using the race as a metaphor, but all of your endeavors will have the point in time you hit the messy middle.
This is where 99% of dreams go to die, and the realization is all the same:
This is going to be hard —like I-don’t-know-if-it’s-worth-it hard.
So, what’s the messy middle look like in different projects, businesses and endeavors?
- It’s episode 29 of your podcast when you’re having the worst time trying to edit.
- It’s 9,200 words in of your book when you’re finding yourself off course in your theme.
- It’s 13 months into your business when you’ve had to fire your first employee and cash flow is tight.
This is the messy middle, and what you choose next will decide your fate.
Why 18 Minute Talks Aren’t Useful
I love going to events, and hearing people’s stories of starting, encountering the messy middle —and then experiencing breakthrough.
Except for one thing —they’re not necessarily true.
No, they’re not actually lying to you…at least I don’t think.
Let me explain: in an 18 minute talk, you can’t possibly explain to the audience what’s really going to happen during the messy middle.
You do your best, of course —but the truth is much more complex than a polished talk could ever create.
And what this narrative does is simplify the messy middle and create a standard model of success.
It goes like this:
You get an idea and you launch.
You experience tremendous challenge.
You breakthrough and now life is amazing.
But what most people don’t tell you is how much time and energy you’ll spend on each of these.
Starting is 5%, the messy middle is 90% and your breakthrough (or achievement) will be around 5%.
Let’s go back to how your fate will be decided.
The Messy Middle Is Hard and Beautiful
So you may be thinking to yourself: why would I ever want to endure through the messy middle?
In a nutshell: this is where all the magic happens.
Specifically, this is where you gain the confidence, skillset and belief that will transcend any “making it” moment on top of the mountaintop.
Most importantly: this is when you discover who you really are.
And trust me: there’s no amount of cold hard cash or shiny toys that will hold a candle to this feeling.
(And you don’t have to trust me, because the research is clear and obvious on what this does for your level of purpose and fulfillment.)
You’re also going to experience all types of breakthroughs during your messy middle: small wins, life-changing ones and everything in between.
Or are they?
Because let’s face it:
Most people aren’t committed to being the best, mastering their craft, being a humble student —and playing the long game.
At the bottom, it’s crowded.
(This is the starting point, the WOOOO! I’m doing it moment which is cheap and easy.)
In the middle, it’s messy and more sparse.
(This is the long slog most won’t endure —the high of starting has worn off and the doubts start to creep in, where many move on to the next shiny opportunity.)
But do you know where it’s quiet?
At the top of the mountain.
(This is where the truly committed are, who value the process of their goals as much as achieving them.)
So if you’re going to do anything:
Do it, but ask yourself why you’re really doing it and what you’re going to do when it gets spicy.
Otherwise, you’ll simply be another number at the bottom of a crowded mountain with a shitty view.
Have you ever experienced the messy middle?