Why the Middles of Projects are Tough (Part 3): Middles Have Middles!

I previously wrote about how the middles of projects are tough:

*They’re the place where the work seems to get much tougher right at the same moment that your enthusiasm starts to ebb.

*They’re a much bigger part of the project than most people realize. (Around 80%!)

However, there’s another problem with middles: they have middles!

Yes, you can have a middle-of-a-middle. Here’s how it works:

Many endeavors begin with a “honeymoon period” where the work is fresh and new, the possibilities seem endless, and you’re filled with energy and enthusiasm. That’s the beginning of the project.

Please meet Lucy, a paralyzed dog in a wheelchair who summited Mount Washington - an 8 mile trip! - and Lucy's guardian Courtney Dunning. Like all dogs, Lucy doesn't get daunted by middles: she knows to take things one step at a time and celebrate her achievements. Here's a video documenting Lucy's achievement. And here's her story.

Please meet Lucy, a paralyzed dog in a wheelchair who summited Mount Washington – an 8 mile trip! – and Lucy’s guardian Courtney Dunning. Like all dogs, Lucy doesn’t get daunted by middles: she knows to take things one step at a time and celebrate her achievements. Here’s a video documenting Lucy’s achievement. And here’s her story.

Alas, like all honeymoons, it too soon comes to an end. Reality sets in, and inevitably disappoints. The work doesn’t come together as easily as you had at first imagined, and you become aware that what you write may never live up to your pristine early vision.

Your motivation wanes, but you resolve to soldier on.

And then, you hit a point where everything seems particularly bleak. I call that the “anti-honeymoon,” and the most famous fictional example is probably the “Slough of Despond” (or, in modern parlance, “Swamp of Despair”) from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress:

‘This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.

For many projects, the anti-honeymoon occurs about 25% of the way through.

The Slough = Perfectionism

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, the Slough consists mainly of the pilgrim Christian’s “fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions.” In other words, it has less to do with his actual predicament, and more to do with his perceptions of, and reactions to, that predicament. (See also: perfectionism.)

The important thing to remember about the anti-honeymoon is that it’s temporary: just keep working and eventually things will improve:

You’ll return to the “normal middle” of the piece where things aren’t so bad, and then eventually make it to what Christian would have called your “Celestial City,” where:

(a) The end of the work will be in sight, and the work itself will get easier. (You’ll be focusing on details instead of making major changes and corrections.)

(b) Although the result probably won’t be exactly the same as you initially envisioned, it will probably be fine, and you will be proud to have accomplished it.

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