On The Merits of Getting Messy

Child playing with LegosWhen my first son was a toddler, he had toys with lots of pieces. I put all the pieces from each toy or game into its own separate bucket so I could be organized. As he grew, my boy was very cooperative about only playing with one thing. He would get the bucket and play with the toys in the bucket and when he was done, I would put everything back in the bucket all neat and tidy. Things were good. Comfy. Controlled.

Later, there was another baby who also grew to be a toddler and this toddler was a different kind of a person. This toddler’s favorite game was called dump out all the buckets. Pretty soon in my living room there were Legos mixed in with puzzle pieces mixed in with army men. At the end of each day, I would separate the toys and put them in their own buckets. After a couple months, I realized that was a lot of work. I briefly considered teaching my small boy not to dump out all the buckets, but that also was not very easy. Finally, I decided to let the buckets be what the buckets were and let the children play the way they wanted to play.

Two boys with toys on the floor

Recently, my life feels like it did when my younger son started dumping out all the buckets. The problem is that I really like all the things to be separated into their own buckets. I like feeling everything is in a certain place and I can find it. But I have the kind of business that grows in many directions, like some crazy plant. I love that, but when it happens, there are periods of time that when it feels like all my buckets are mixed together on the floor and I don’t know where all the pieces go.

Lean Into the Messiness

I have been thinking lately about leaning into the messiness of life in a period of change and growth. When I am training new coaches, the biggest area of discomfort for them is often the sense that they are not “doing it right.” And we talk about the importance of leaning into the messiness. Allow that there might not be sharp clear edges with what you are doing. And you might not know if what you are doing is right. In times of growth and learning, we sometimes need to get messy. We may feel like all of our boxes have been dumped on the floor. We may not be able to easily find that thing that was “right there” yesterday. It’s a new world and your neural pathways are changing and growing. It’s a good thing. It leads to possibility. But it does not feel familiar or comfortable. The messiness is where the learning and change reside.

I had a yoga teacher once who said, “you cannot know what something is unless you engage with it.” Sometimes we don’t jump out of our comfort zone because we cannot see what is on the other side. The messiness and uncertainty can be scary. But you have to jump in and engage in order to create the new thing, in order to see what it really is.

Where are Your Opportunities Now?

So check – are things feeling messy? Then yay, you are in it. You are transitioning. You are changing and learning and growing.

And if not, then maybe just check – what is it you want; where would you like to go that maybe you are avoiding because you don’t know what it will look like? Because you don’t see the clear edges of it. Where are you avoiding because you don’t have all the information and all the facts? Where can you lean into the messy and get what you say you want in your life?

Go ahead. Dump out the toys.

About the Author

Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching attorneys and management since early 2008. She wrote a book, published by the American Bar Association, "Coaching for Attorneys: Improving Productivity and Achieving Balance." She coaches attorneys and managers one-on-one, and provides in-house training designed to improve productivity and bring accountability to the organization.

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