The shaky middle a.k.a., the fire swamp.
It's funny isn't it? Whenever we start anything new, we are filled with excitement and energy. Our creative juices are flowing all over the place. We have a clear vision of what we hope to achieve and are filled with optimism about what is to come. Unquestionably, the start of any new endeavour is one of the sexiest parts of the process because you have yet to start the actual work, have encountered no roadblocks...you can imagine the outcome and it is, for a brief time, flawless.
Even as we begin and start to hit hurdles or uncertainty, the momentum of the starting surge pushes us through those initial barriers. We have stamina and although the finish line is too far to see, if we look behind us, that vision we had is still clear in our rear view mirror.
A bit further along and that vision behind us is getting blurry. The energy we spent starting from scratch is depleting and yet the finish line is still out of view, too far to draw motivation to refill these precious resources. This is, what I like to call, the very shaky middle a.k.a., the fire swamp. This is a Princess Bride reference for those who are wondering what a swamp has to do with the middle of a project. The fire swamp is an uninviting, yet necessary thoroughfare for the heroes of the story. It is known for its three primary dangers: flame spurts, lightning sand (faster than quicksand), and rodents of unusual size (we're talking massive).
"A bit further along and that vision behind us is getting blurry. The energy we spent starting from scratch is depleting and yet the finish line is still out of view, too far to draw motivation to refill these precious resources."
Each year that we have produced these shows we go through our own fire swamp. We are a month into rehearsals and all the lustre of the vision of the show we are creating starts to wear off. We have dissected the shows into songs, broken songs into parts and separated parts into sections. We work on these "sections" without a sense of what the final song will look like, let alone what the final show will look like. Doubt sets in like lightening sand, sucking the cast and crew's outlooks down. Some musical arrangements aren't working, taking us by surprise like a flame burst and needing to be reworked. Production related tasks grow...and grow...and grow until they seem like rodents of unusual size, too big to overcome. It can be very scary and deflating. It requires something intangible. A great balance of faith and hard work.
You need faith that the path you started on was a good one. Faith that while you may be navigating without a GPS, so to speak, you are still heading in the direction you need to be. Faith in yourself, that you are talented and committed to doing a great job. Faith in others, that they are too. Faith that past experiences of success can help you to see the finish line even when it's murky because you have been there before, (in fact, the show has gotten better every year). And once you find that faith, you need to be prepared to put in the hard work knowing you will succeed.
"It requires something intangible. A great balance of faith and hard work."
The great thing about the middle is that you can only get closer to the end from this point on. With each passing day things become clearer. Discrete efforts align into cohesive outcomes. The final product moves from beyond sight, into something blurry on the horizon getting clearer and clearer. With each step forward, energy replenishes, confidence renews and momentum grows again. Seeing the finish line in your sights is the first sign you are out of the swamp altogether.
Anyone can have an idea. Anyone can start something. Anyone, once the initiative is in the final stretch, can carry it over the line, but the middle...that's where the perils lie, where many fall off. To be successful through the middle is reserved for only the few. It's when you can't see where you started, where you are going and have expended most of your energy but learn to be comfortable in ambiguity. When you can fall back on faith and hard work...then you can make it through the fire swamp.