The middle is hard.

the middle is hard

Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

His point was that even the longest expeditions have to start somewhere — and certainly, he’s right.

My issue is that I’ve rarely had a problem with that first step or even the first mile. It’s mile no. 627 that usually gets me.

The middle is hard.

Beginning is easy enough. The ending isn’t necessarily a cakewalk, but the middle is tough. Learning the lesson of how difficult the middle can be has taken me decades to realize. But finally, I know that somewhere along the way in almost every project, there comes a point that is so clouded, so difficult, so seemingly unresolvable — that most of us just want to throw our hands in the air and say, “Forget about it.”

In fact, I believe that most of us do just that.

Walking away, starting something else, quitting or saying, “Well, this wasn’t where I really wanted to go, but I guess this place will do,” comes easy. Murkiness and hesitancy in narrowing our options, identifying the right direction, choosing which fork in the road to take can be almost paralyzing — or, at the very least, discouraging. Sometimes we want to run the other way, and sometimes we want to plop down where we are and just stay there — regardless of its appropriateness, comfort or general desirability.

For me, in those times, the project has seemed doomed or impossible. To be fair, I suppose, some projects are truly unachievable and should be forsaken. But like Kenny Rogers said, the trick is knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em.

However, perhaps we “fold ‘em” too often because that’s the easiest option. In the last few years, I’ve come to learn and appreciate that having the fortitude to keep going in the midst of such opacity and “project despair” can lead to amazing places.

I suppose some readers might apply this story to a relationship — and you’re welcome to do so, but my personal experience around this phenomenon has been more in the professional realm. For example, publishing a book is hard. Writing the book turns out to be one of the most do-able aspects of the whole process. After the writing is complete is when the going gets tough. Editing. Getting feedback. Gaining consensus. Working with other people to make it a better product — that’s the hard part. When I’ve persevered, the path has gotten easier and more clearly marked. I’m not completely sure why, but acknowledging the struggle of the middle has made things better. Now, when I get to the hard part of a project, sometimes I catch myself saying, “Wow, this is hard.”

Then, a bell sounds in my brain, and I say, “Oh, this is the middle. I’ve got to keep going. I may not see the end right now, but if I keep going, things will clear up” — and, amazingly, they do.

I wish I could have learned the lesson long ago.

Perseverance is a powerful thing.


My new mantra is…

My husband, Julio Naudin, is good at doing one thing at a time. Here he is placing the final stone on a small cairn in Northern California.
My husband, Julio Naudin, is good at doing one thing at a time. Here he is placing the final stone on a small cairn in Northern California.

Four simple syllables give me the heebie jeebies.
I used to believe the same four syllables were wonderful. I used to believe they represented something I wanted to be doing as much as possible. I used to believe they embodied the utmost of productivity.
I now know better.
I was wrong.
The four simple syllables are not the be all, but after years of experimentation with them, I realize they could be my undoing.
The four syllables are mul-ti-task-ing.
Multitasking is not my friend. For that matter, it’s not your friend either.
I came to this decision on my own, but as it turns out, this isn’t just my opinion. Science backs me up — by doing less, we do more.
Plus, it’s not good for our brains. Chronic multitaskers have a “failure to filter,” according to research by Stanford University. And that filter failure doesn’t allow them to distinguish between the information that’s important and the information that isn’t.
I had missed that newsflash when it came out a few years back. I came to my anti-multitasking stance based on observation and personal experience.
For example, I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with a young mother who works part-time from home. She has a toddler. Until recently, she spent most of her time trying to watch the toddler and get work done in spurts when the child was occupied.
This is what we do now, isn’t it? We check emails when we’re closing the car door and walking in the building. We used to just walk in the building. We catch up with loved ones on the phone while we’re watering the plants. We used to just water the plants. We go walking or running and listen to a book on audio. We used to just walk or run.
The whole thing seems to work, but maybe it’s not working as well as we think. Science says that our brains just aren’t wired to take in more than one message at a time.
The young mother says she was constantly frustrated with her young daughter and the little girl whined a lot. Maybe that was because she never had her mother’s full attention. The lines of our lives have been so blurred. Most of us are never fully at work or off work. That constantly on with constant access isn’t working as well as we think it is.
Let me say that I’m as guilty as any. As I tried to write this column, my 18-year-daughter came up and wanted to chat. In case you’re keeping score at home, the 18-year-old daughter wanting to sit and chat doesn’t happen often. She sat beside me as I sat with my computer open. She just wanted to talk. I felt like I had to write and finish this column.
The irony was not lost on me.
I ended up closing the computer and pushing it away. Had I been writing about any other topic, I’m not sure I would have taken my own advice.
But the truth is, how many more times is my girl, while she’s living at home, going to want to sit and talk to me about the new choreography for their Spirit Week dance at school? How many more times is she going to want to look at information on colleges and have a rational conversation about where she should go?
I missed my deadline on this column — and maybe I don’t have all the words just right, but I did have a lovely, distraction-free conversation with my daughter tonight.
“One thing at a time” is my new mantra.

Gathering experiences instead of t-shirts

Zooziana's owner George Oldenberg gets up close and personal with Gabriel.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped buying the t-shirt. I realized I just didn’t need another one.

I didn’t need proof that I had been there or done that. A few years after that grand realization, I stopped wanting little knickknacks and whatnots. More didn’t equal better or more beautiful — it simply equaled more. More to clean or dust or put away.

Through the years we have done our best to provide our children with what they need, but, for better or worse, we also started trying to cement in their perspectives the value of experiences over things.

As Greer, our oldest daughter, approached her 18th birthday, she couldn’t name one thing she wanted as a gift. She is not your typical 18-year-old girl. She listens to the beat of her own drummer — and the thing that interests her most is working with animals. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do or how we were going to celebrate her birthday, but I wanted it to be special.

When I spoke with George Oldenburg, the owner of Zoosiana, we came up with an idea.

Years ago, George was living a normal life and working in a bank. Then, in 2002, he bought a zoo. Needless to say, his life has changed in the years since.

On the day Greer turned 18, George met us at the front gate of the zoo just as it was closing. As a party of five, we were the only humans in the zoo. Granted, it’s not a typical gift for an 18-year-old girl, but for our girl, it worked just fine!

Walking around the maze of paths and seeing how the animals responded to George was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. He gave us the up close and personal experience with the animals, and we had the chance to learn so much about their personalities and the care required to keep them healthy.

With George as our guide, we were able to get closer to some animals than I had ever thought about being. For example, I wasn’t certain I wanted to let a lion lick my hand (through a strong fence, I might add), but I did. And just like a house cat, you’ll be pleased to know that a lion’s tongue feels like sandpaper. And, for the record, a giraffe’s tongue is long and purple. We learned that as Gabriel, the zoo’s male giraffe and George’s favorite animal, ate some leaves from a small branch I was holding.

We also were able to get up close and personal (with a fence between us) with two tigers — I was a nervous wreck, but my daughters loved it. We learned that cranes are rather mean. The parakeets were fantastic and very social. There’s a monkey named Myron that loves to ring a bell for treats. The aforementioned lions (with the sandpaper tongues) are from the MGM lions in Las Vegas. We learned that George’s zoo, Zoosiana, has the largest collection of squirrel monkeys in the country, and that he had to find a different home for a donated parrot that talked like a sailor.

All in all, he has more than 150 types of animals. When he showed us the food prep area, we were amazed to learn just how well these animals eat! There are seven feeding routines and zookeepers keep careful reports of how the animals are eating. We also saw the zoo’s vet center where sick animals are tended.

All in all, it was a magical night — one our family will treasure for decades to come. In fact, the night went so well that George has decided to make the experience available to others. I am grateful for the opportunity.

In our time together, I could see that George values experience in much the same way we do. The joy in his life is not that he owns a zoo. From what I can tell, the real reward to George is the experience with the animals — and that’s what he shared with us.