Stuck in the Middle with You

Jessi Chadd shares her half-marathon story to illustrate how enduring the difficult middle allows you to enjoy the end. Listen or read the transcript:

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the middle.  Maybe it is because it feels like we are in the middle of this pandemic.  We are so in the middle of an election that has divided our country.  Seems like we are facing a lot where we cannot go back to how things were, and we are not yet at the finish line. It’s like Act 2 of a three-act play.  Isn’t this where we go and get more snacks and use the restroom? Because what really happens in Act 2 that is so important? 

In life, we don’t get to opt out of the middle and it can be some of the hardest times through which we have to push.  A few years back, I completed my first half marathon.  I remember at the beginning of the race there was all this excitement and energy.  We were packed in like cattle, and everything was a buzz.  The energy was palpable.  I then remember the end of the race, and even though I walked this half marathon, I ended up running the final mile.  There was so much excitement as we approached the finish line, and we couldn’t help but run across in victory.  But what about the middle?  What about mile 8?  I have a hard time remembering, and it is likely because the middle wasn’t that exciting.  I do remember complaining around mile 9.  My sister and I were doing this together, and by mile 9, we were asking each other, “why, why are we doing this?!”  “Why does this matter?” “Can’t we just quit now?” Our legs were burning, and the finish line was nowhere in sight.  To top it off, we started getting passed by those who were running the full marathon.  Our egos were bruised as were our shins. I think the highlight of the middle of this race were gummy bears – 5 gummy bears in a paper cup that we received at mile 10.  Wow. Thrilling. 

And yet, without the middle, we do not get the finish line high.  There is no getting to the end without going through the middle.  OK, sure, I guess we could have cut the race short and found our way to the finish line early, but we would know forever that we took the easy way out.  It would have tainted the impact of getting to the finish line. The only way to get through hard things is to go through them.  So if the middle is inevitable but we know it is going to be tough, what can we do to keep that starting line energy with us? Here are my tips for managing the “middle” of a journey that you might be on. 

Go back to your deep WHY
When we are feeling the doldrums of the middle, this is the time we dig deep and remember our why.  Why was I completing this half marathon?  To say that I did it and get my 13.1 sticker?  Yes and no.  That why is not deep enough to keep me going.  A sticker isn’t going to cut it for me.  I was doing this half marathon to prove to myself I was capable, even though my whole life I was told I was not “athletic” and that I could not complete a hard physical challenge.  This race took lots of preparation and it did not come without injury and yet, here I am proving myself and others wrong.  I am a fit person; I can do hard physical things with my body.  If I can do this hard thing, what other hard things can I do? Where else am I holding myself back? This was my deep WHY.  Can you tell I am a defiant middle child? 

Rely on habits, not motivation
No amount of drum beating, crowd cheering, self-talk was going to get us through miles 4-12.  It was nice and it helped pass the time, but we were beyond external motivation.  Sometimes to finish the race, when the momentum of the beginning is long gone, we must go back to habits.  I had “rehearsed” this race.  My training plan that became my morning habit prepared me for these long miles.  I was no longer running on motivation but on my habits.  This is why we always seem to come back to habits – if we rely solely on motivation and willpower, we will run out of resources.  Think about your habits as your identity.  Instead of me saying, I finished a half marathon, I instead say “I am a person who completes half marathons.”  This small shift in language ties your habit to your identity and therefore, if I do not complete this half marathon, then I am going against who I say that I am.  We tend to stick true to our identities and how we label ourselves helps us show up in really hard times. 

Find a buddy and stick together
I had a great accountability partner in this race – my older sister.  We are used to being bossy with each other so it was natural that we could hold each other accountable to run this race.  Find a buddy for the middle.  The middle of that half marathon would have sucked buckets had I not had Jen with me.  The beginning and end would have been fine because I had the crowd, but the middle would have been a beast and I may not have made it to the end without her.  Ok, I would have because I am stubborn, but think about the “middles” of your journeys and how much easier they are when we have the support of a good friend. 

Believe that you are worth the effort
My last tip is simple, but it is not easy.  Believe that you are worth the hard fight of the middle.  If we are not healthy in how we think and feel about ourselves, then when the external motivation fades, we will sink.  You must believe that you are worth the effort of the hard middle.  Getting through the middle of something is in a way self-care.  You care enough about YOU that you will go through this slog to get to the finish line where your victory awaits.  You are worth all the effort and you can do hard things.  Believe that. 

There is no sugar coating it.  The middle stinks.  The middle is the valley between two mountain tops and most of us like the mountain tops.  But in the valley is where we learn.  It is because it is hard and sometime boring and not as pretty.  But there is growth in the valley; there is a richness of experience in the valley.  So dig in and enjoy the middle.  And don’t get stuck.

Tip shared by Jessi Chadd, a certified financial planner (CFP®) and a certified financial transitions specialist (CeFT®). Jessi lives at the intersection of wellness and wealth and enjoys helping people be well in all areas of their life including their finances. For more information on how you can improve your financial wellness, please reach Jessi at Jessi is a co-organizer for Priority Fit Camp. Each week, we publish a health and wellness tip that is shared at the Priority Fit Camp community workout. The free group class happens every Saturday at 7:50 a.m.  

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“Running” by @lattefarsan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0