In Between Shores: The Murky Middle of Growth

Nov 07, 2021

“For everything there is a season: a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

— Ecclesiastes 3:1–4

I have always loved advice columns.

Growing up, I read “Dear Abby”, “Ann Landers”, and indulged in the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” column in Ladies Home Journal while waiting at doctors’ offices or hair salons with my mom.

I’ve since updated my easy reading list. As an adult, I still indulge in advice columns—like those of Carolyn Hax, Amy Dickenson, and Miss Manners. Their pithy words of wisdom balance out the weightier thoughts in a day.

My favorite of all is Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” column -- now a podcast with Steve Almond. They are known for taking on meaty issues with no easy answers. Strayed, in particular, provides the same searing, gold-nuggets of truth. Her latest collection of essays, Brave Enough, is a clarion call for taking one step at a time, leaning into the hope of head and heart, as I described a few weeks back

The Murky Middle

A few years after my greatest loss, I was navigating, yet again, new terrain. I had reached a point where acute grief no longer immobilized me. Instead, I felt I was in a sort of limbo. No longer in the worst of it, or the shock of the crisis, but not in sight of a shore on the other side.

I was adrift and, looking in all directions for a horizon, I couldn’t really find one. I wondered how long I would stay here, feeling lost at sea. Not drowning, but not on new, steady land.

Navigating the space between the comfort of our past lives and the (still unseen) shores of our new life is tricky. Yet, it is also a time where the possibilities for transformational growth start to swirl.

It was in this adrift landscape that I realized I could reach out for help, just as I had borrowed hope. I became eager to learn from the wisdom of those around me who had made it from one shore to the other.

It was when I was reading personal stories of adversity that I came across Strayed’s Wild (now a movie starring Reese Witherspoon), which is a grief memoir at its core. A faithful listener of their weekly podcast, I decided to take a chance and write to them, asking for wisdom and insight on how to travel this murky middle ground of healing. A chapter of life when I felt true satisfaction and peace on some days, and absolute heartache and despair on others. I signed my letter, “Mama with Complicated Joy”.

Complicated ≠ Bad

Perhaps I will share that letter one day (outside of my book) here on the blog. But for now, I want to focus on the response they gave me. [If interested, you can listen to the full episode here].

In short, they validated that I can, in fact, experience many things at once: joy and sorrow, growth and setbacks, light and dark. They let me know that, indeed, life feels complicated right now. New beginnings mix with old wounds, loss stands just beside hope…

In this murky middle, they reminded me that such complication is the nature of a life fully lived. They reminded me that it’s when we try to shove these things separate from each other that we’ll run into trouble.

So as you navigate your journey after a difficult experience, especially here in this murky middle, remind yourself: The question is not whether we are broken or whole, but whether we can breathe life into the whole of our experience. Even the parts we want to keep hidden.

It is in this authenticity of spirit that we’ll find peace, until the next shoreline peeks over the horizon.

This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 14 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter and our newsletter in the following weeks, dives into how we might lean on each other in those times of darkness, even in corporate and team settings, and return to the well of talent.

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