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I Don’t Want to Write About Being A Work In Progress

Can you spot what’s wrong with my chandelier? Yep, it’s missing a lightbulb. Do you ever feel like you’re something gorgeous that’s just missing a lightbulb moment?

Projects in progress make me uncomfortable. I feel squirmy inside when I look at a half-finished job. I feel like posting a sign that defends the situation, “Don’t judge! Work in progress! It’s not done yet!”

Voilà! Transformation!

Recently, I re-designed my entryway (hence the new chandelier). Surveying the dusty painting tarp, cans of paint, and shoes shoved out of the way, I felt driven to rush the project to completion. I didn’t want anyone to see this renovation in progress; I only wanted to unveil the finished transformation in one grand moment of reveal.

Do you love makeover shows like I do? There’s magic in the moment of the reveal. The barber’s chair swivels to face the camera, the screen rolls away to reveal the home, the woman emerges onto the runway… transformation! Breathtaking. Don’t we all crave that sometimes?

But while we all delight in the reveal, we abhor the messy middle. That’s because the transformation process often involves mistakes, confusion, pain, doubts, and loss. Perhaps those makeover shows are so appealing because they deliver the gorgeous result with minimal investment of our time, emotion, and energy while in progress.

Have You Ever…

Have you ever attempted a life transformation and then regretted it? We probably all know the feeling. It happens when we spend a bunch of money on a degree for a career that ends up unsatisfying, when we end a relationship and then stare around at the lonely house, when we audition and are told we don’t measure up, or simply when we go for a new hairstyle and despise the look.

Determining to grind it out while in progress doesn’t necessarily deliver results either because it can lead to burn-out. White-knuckling anything eventually fails because it’s inauthentic -we’re pretending to be something we’ve not yet become, in order to attempt to manage something we can’t control. Often, for me, this is motivated by the need to prove something to the world or to myself, to justify my existence. Just being isn’t enough; I need to be something amazing. I feel like taping that sign to myself, “Don’t judge! Work in progress! I’m not done yet!” 

What To Do?

When I paused to photograph my entryway before the lightbulb arrived, I had a lightbulb moment myself. An entryway is a transitional location; a door is all about exiting one situation and entering another. And I had just made that space of transition gorgeous, giving it an honored appearance in my home! I wonder – is there a way we can do this with the less tangible aspects of who we are?  

My newly painted entryway

Here Are Nine Tips for “Re-decorating” the Transitional Spaces While We’re Still In Progress:

1. Grounding

Sometimes, I subconsciously live like I’m trying to escape each moment in order to arrive somewhere better… only to want to escape that moment once it arrives! This cycle never ends. Grounding practices help me realize that the present moment is not a cage, but rather an opportunity. We can try digging bare toes into the cool grass, breathing deeply for a minute or two, or noticing what we smell and hear. Mental Illness Mouse brainstormed some unusually creative options for grounding, if you want more inspiration.

2. Self-Compassion

When we try something new and it doesn’t go as planned, how do the voices in our head sound? Are they harsh and condemning, or encouraging and understanding? Practice speaking (even in our own head) in the way we would speak to a dearly loved child who is learning to navigate the world.

3. Change our Mindset

Sometimes we expect that, until we cross the finish line, we will be lacking what we want. In reality, we can be peaceful and content even while we’re in progress, as long as we believe that the present moment is actually the perfect place to be. It is in this moment – and ONLY in this moment – that I find wide-open potential to affect the world with my existence.

4. Prioritize Relationships

How often do I rush through my to-do list all day long and then feel empty at the end of the day? I’ve realized that I feel most fulfilled on the days that I spend uninterrupted moments with my kids. Connection with the people around us makes the journey itself satisfying. It’s the difference between a commute to work and a hike with friends. It’s not so much about arriving, but rather about journeying together.

5. Celebrate

Sometimes I want to refuse to celebrate anything until everything is the way it should be. It’s like going on an emotional strike. The problem is that my strike doesn’t influence change in my circumstances or my problems… it just keeps me miserable. Celebrating something in the middle of a mess can be an act of defiance. One fun way to do this is to keep an eye out for holidays, especially the little-known ones. Check out the Holidays Calendar website for a list of obscure (and wildly entertaining) holidays – stuff like “National Do a Grouch a Favor Day” and “National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.”

6. Rest

When we’re done celebrating, we rest. There are days when I want to throw in the towel on EVERYTHING… and then I realize I just need a nap.  It’s amazing how the journey changes from agonizing to enjoyable after a bubble bath or an hour of lying in the sun.

7. Fix Some Little Things

When I don’t have the time to clean an entire room, I sometimes assume I just have to tolerate the way it is. However, making one small change in the right direction can make an exponential difference in the mood and mindset. Is the kitchen a mess? Just clear off the island counter. Not feeling great about what you see in the mirror? Paint your nails. Don’t have time for a vegetable garden? Grow some mint in a pot. Even if we can’t arrive, we can take one more step in a fulfilling direction.

8. Release Relational Expectations

Sometimes we put our besties on sky-high pedestals, while we condemn antagonists to complete exile in outer space. Can I allow the people in my life to be what they are, even if it’s a mix of lovely and annoying? Honestly, I am that mix, too. Freedom is found in separating love and expectations. Can I love others because I love to love them, without expecting them to be something that they’re not? There’s no finish line that wins love. 

9. Allow Undefined Space

Does sitting still sometimes feel purposeless? Does waiting feel like wasting? Instead, perhaps open space is the perfect environment for growth. We’ve all heard how goldfish grow in relation to the size of their bowl. Let’s challenge ourselves to allow emptiness in our agenda and discover what’s been hiding under our busyness. For more on allowing white space, check out Sarah Bennett’s lovely blog post.

What If…

What if we assumed for the rest of our lives that we will continually be learning and never graduate, continually strengthening our convictions and never losing our tenderness, continually growing until we die. Always in progress. Could that feel like a relief instead of an unattainable goal?

I hate the feeling of failure, of lostness. It feels like plunging through the dark, groping for something, and finding nothing. But maybe flying could feel like that too. Maybe the difference between falling and flying is whether or not I’m panicking. That, and what my ultimate trajectory is.

I am a Light

I am a chandelier, gorgeous and radiant. Every day I burn through a little bit of my old energy. Seasonally, I will need a new lightbulb. Being a light in a dark place requires constant glowing, shifts in illumination of my vision, and seasons of renewal. Just as light travels through space, the nature of being a luminary involves a journey. Still, all along the travels of a ray of light, it lessens the darkness of everyone around. And what does light do when it arrives? It reflects and then shines some more.

Hate to break it to myself, but I’ll never arrive. Transformation is not about arriving; it’s about learning to glow while on the way. I can learn to walk with courage and tenderness, no matter where I’m headed. When I learn to celebrate before victory, love before perfection, and rest before wrapping it all up… well, then, my work here is complete.

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The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, its employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

Bethany Jean

Bethany Jean has always had a flair for having a whole lot to say, landing herself the childhood nickname “Anne with an ‘e’” (any L.M. Montgomery fans?). As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, most of her time, energy, and devotion is voraciously devoured by her three spunky darlings. Besides writing, she also expresses heart-to heart communication musically through singing, songwriting, and playing piano and guitar. Bethany is an English and Spanish teacher by trade, and she launched her freelance editing business in 2018. Bethany dearly loves swinging under the big old tree in her front yard. In recent years, gut-wrenching books have unexpectedly found a home on her shelf, containing topics such as codependency, marriage to a sex addict, chronic illness, relational trauma, domestic abuse, and divorce. Still, she would not trade these heartrending experiences for the steadfastness that she’s learning to find in her God, in herself, and in her community. Her writing invites you to join the motley yet loyal family of brokenness and belonging.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carrie Eagan

    Truely insightful article! Thank you for putting into words, some foundational things we all need to grasp, Bethany.

    1. Bethany Jean

      Thank you for the encouragement! Thanks also for being willing to engage with the messy topic of being a work in progress. That takes courage!

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