You know that middle point in a project. Between the initial sparkle of possibility and the triumphant first goal. When uncertainty, frustration, vulnerability and discomfort come to visit and nudge you to go back, or give up. I’m there, and it’s the worst.
In ‘Rising Strong’ (which I have written about here), Brené Brown talks about projects as processes or stories. They have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Day 1 is the start, day 2 is the struggle, day 3 is the triumph.
The idea of day 2 comes from a three-day training course Brené teaches. She reflects that day 2 is always the hardest for the students. The content is hard and leaves subjects feeling vulnerable. And the dynamics of the group are affected by tiredness and emerging hierarchies.
Day 2 symbolises the middle of a project. The point that darkness and vulnerability set in. It’s also home to ‘the point of no return’, a term borrowed from aviation which means the point on the flight path when there is too little fuel left to return to the originating airport. It’s a scary place, because you’re too far in to turn back, but not far enough to see the light.
When Brené realised that her students were struggling on day 2, her immediate reaction was to to try to ease their struggle. It didn’t work. She realised that day 2 was a non-negotiable part of the process.
In every project – personal, creative, entrepreneurial or academic – we will meet our day 2. Whether our day 2 is in fact a day, or weeks, months or years, the way that we navigate day 2 will define our ending.
As I mentioned, I am deep in the doldrums of a day 2. Nothing creative or entrepreneurial, I am just working on a major assignment for my Masters course. And I am so out of my depth. The subject is loosely about political institutions and policy processes, and the assignment requires me to analyse the way a policy problem has been handled from the perspective of a ‘theoretical framework’. It’s sort of politics meets philosophy, and I’ve never been good with the ‘isms’.
So I think, and I’m not sure, that this means I can pick a policy issue and analyse it through a philosophical lens. I’ve decided to look at the handling of the section 18C debate, as brought to light by the Andrew Bolt case, and discuss the effect of institutions on the decision to amend, and then not amend, racial discrimination legislation. Sorry, thats a bit boring. But the point is. That’s as far as I’ve got, and I’m not even sure I’ve got that much right. I’m completely and utterly bewildered about what to do next, and no amount of reading seems to be capable of lifting me out of this mess.
Naturally, my state of utter confusion transformed itself into anger, frustration and shame respectively. So I have been beating myself up about it all and feeling like a failure, despite not having even hit the keys on my opening paragraph.
And then I realised. I have not failed yet, for I have barely begun. I am only in the middle of my story. I’m in day 2. What I do next will determine how this ends.
I’m past the point of no return, as in I would lose my tuition fees and register a fail if I turned back. So forward is my only direction.
I could go forward quietly, hide my confusion and shame and try to pull something together. No-one would ever know my struggle. It might work, I might figure it all out and end up with a good mark. But more than likely I will not. Hiding behind my shame now will only set me up for greater disappointment down the track.
Or, I could do as Brené suggests and lean in to the discomfort and my vulnerability. I could confront my discomfort by forcing myself to keep reading, more and more, even though it feels like I am reading a foreign language. I could allow myself to be vulnerable by reaching out to my lecturer, admitting my confusion and asking for help. I’m afraid of this, because it will require me to leave the comfort of the grandstand, where I am just another face in the lecture hall, and to enter the arena, where I will be scrutinised. Scrutnised about my ability, my intellect, my commitment to the course.
Choosing courage over comfort will undoubtedly lead to a far better result for me. What it means, though, is that day 2 will be hard. But, as Brené says, that’s just part of the process.
She notes that no amount of awareness or experience can give us a free pass from the daunting level of doubt that is part of the process. But what awareness and experience will give us is: ‘A little grace. A grace that whispers, “This is part of the process. Stay the course.”‘
I’m down here, and it’s messy. But I know it’s normal, and I know it’s okay. And I know it’s where the magic happens. So I will stay the course.
Thought Leader(s): Brené Brown
Book(s): Brown, B (2015) ‘Rising Strong’, Penguin Random House UK.