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The Exciting Beginning, Messy Middle, and Getting Back to Basics

A story of two trips and getting back to basics to keep moving through the messy middle.

Ashley Janssen
Ashley Janssen
6 min read
The Exciting Beginning, Messy Middle, and Getting Back to Basics
The messy middle requires endurance and persistence, which require care and attention.

The exciting beginning

When I decided to shift to full-time consulting and writing in the spring of last year I took a solo trip to a friend's cottage in the mountains. It was notable in many ways, the greatest of which was that I had never done it before: I had never gone on a trip by myself!

Truthfully, the idea had never occurred to me. My husband and I started dating when we were 18 years old and from then on we were a team in everything. I have always liked it that way. When we go on trips we play to our strengths. I plan the where, when, and how before. He handles the logistics once we get there.

Going on my own, even for a fairly straightforward 7-hour drive, for 5 days alone in a small town in BC was strange, but also exciting.

I had almost a frantic energy leading into the trip. While I was there, I woke up at 5:30 or 6:00 am every morning (keeping in mind I there was a timezone difference), but was ready to write. I reflected, planned and wrote for hours, easily slipping into the zone and feeling like I couldn’t get the ideas out of my head fast enough. Each day I wrote until lunch, worked out, and came back and wrote more into the evening.

Two of the days I went for solo hikes which was another thing I had never done. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction (hence my husband managing logistics when we travel together). But I went anyway. I (predictably) got lost almost immediately on the first hike and travelled at least 2 km more than I needed to. After that rough start, though, I managed to make my way and even find my car again. 😅

I felt more confident for the second hike, which was supposed to be 4 hours, 8km, with a 600m elevation gain. I somehow finished it in 2 hours, though it was the hardest hike I had ever done. Perhaps the possibility of bears was a motivator...😬. It was another display of the incredible energy I had that week.

After all that, I came back home with a strategic plan, all my new website content, as well as some blog posts. The vitality I had on the trip bled into my return and I continued to ride that wave well into the summer.

I was in the exciting beginning.

I made it to the summit (without a bear encounter or getting lost) and was fairly pleased with myself. Note I ended up accidentally taking a quad trail for the last kilometre which was significantly more difficult than the regular trail, but I still managed to make it back!

A different experience

Nearly 8 months later, in the last week of February, I was in Vancouver for another solo writing retreat. I planned it in the early winter, knowing I needed something on the horizon to look forward to, and the desire to recapture some of the fire I had gotten from the first retreat.

Being only my second solo trip, second time flying alone, and first time flying since Covid (over 2 years), it was another push outside my comfort zone.

I was there for 5 days. According to the locals, it was unseasonably cold the week I went, but still just over freezing and sunny almost the whole time (Vancouver is known for being cloudy and rainy, especially in the winter). But it was 15 to 20 degrees Celsius warmer in Vancouver than home, so it was an epic win in my mind. It was green, which blew my mind after months of our frozen wasteland!

I again woke up at 5:30 or 6:00 am every morning and I wrote until midday. But this time was different. I fought with my articles. I tried to do some strategic planning but couldn’t quite get in the zone. I had a hard time focussing and felt scattered and tired. The energy I had on the last trip was absent.

I mostly wanted to go out and enjoy the sunshine more than I wanted to write.  

The apartment I stayed in was a few blocks from Stanely Park, a stunning 1000 acre peninsula with a huge network of forest trails and a beautiful path along the seawall. I had another series of firsts: trail running, running beside the ocean, eating solo in a restaurant (overlooking the ocean no less) and a lovely dinner with a friend I made over Covid that I had never met in person. I walked and ran 10-14 km each day I was there and it was glorious.

It was a lovely break from the cold and snow in Edmonton.

Going for a run on the Vancouver Seawall in the sunshine. There is only one path so no risk of getting lost.😁

But I came home and didn’t feel the flush of excitement and motivation I had from the last trip. I don’t know if I had consciously expected it, but I felt disappointed that I wasn’t energized. I wanted to be pulled out of the languishing feeling I had been battling all winter…but wasn’t.  

As I settled back into the routines of home, I felt guilty for not being more productive on the trip (though I still was productive), for not having that same enthusiasm as when I returned the last time, and then I felt guilty for even feeling guilty because I got to go on the trip in the first place .🙄

The messy middle

After several conversations with my husband and a few friends, I realized that the expectation that I would come back with the same energy as my last trip, even if subconscious, was not reasonable. A lot has happened since that last trip and it’s not even possible to compare.

Things are different.

I am in the part of building my business that requires diligence and consistency. It’s winter. The world is a loud and messy place (though it always is, it seems particularly discordant right now).

I realized that I am in the messy middle.

The beginning of a journey, as I was on my first trip, is exciting and full of possibilities. The middle, where I am now, is messy and a lot harder. It requires endurance and persistence, which require care and attention.

My endurance and persistence are supported by remembering how far I’ve travelled and everything I’ve achieved, experienced and tried along the way. It can only be maintained through the habits and rituals I have fostered.

I realized that I have to get back to basics. So that's what I’m doing.

You never know what's coming around the bend. In this case, it was a fat squirrel who cared little for my presence.

Getting back to basics

These are the things that I know help me. They are what I am leaning on to help me keep moving through the messy middle:

  1. Share how I'm feeling. Talking about how I feel makes a big difference. It helps me process, in this case, I learned that I was most definitely not alone in feeling drained and unmotivated. A little validation can go a long way.
  2. Daily reflection. Reflecting back each day helps me look at everything more holistically. I am reminded of the good things, the wins, and the things I am grateful for, while still acknowledging and noticing the hard things.
  3. Daily fitness. I still have my streak (1529 as of publishing!). Movement helps boost my energy and keeps my body feeling good.
  4. Daily writing. Even on the days I don’t feel particularly creative, the practice of writing and coming back to it each day encourages my mind to work.
  5. Celebrate the wins. Some days they are small, but the wins are always there if I pay attention.
  6. Practise self-care and self-compassion. I know what I need to do to take care of myself and I just need to keep doing those things. Every day is different and some will be better than others. Self-compassion is harder but I’m working on it!

As I look down the winding path ahead, I will reflect, celebrate the wins, learn from the failures, and try to leave the rest. Now is the time to keep moving, one foot in front of the other. To rely on my habits and rituals. To focus on being present, control what I can, quiet the noise as best I can, and take care.

Everything has a season. It’s winter now but spring always comes eventually. 😊


I have been hearing from my friends and clients that they are feeling similar. The fatigue of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, changing rules and arrangements as Covid restrictions are lifted, endless winter...it is a tough time for many, in a wide variety of ways.

Are you struggling too?

If you need help to connect back to your habits and or to discover new ones and learn ways to keep moving forward, I would love to hear from you.

ReflectionResilience
Ashley Janssen

Ashley Janssen

Productivity consultant, writer, speaker, serial entrepreneur, chaos calmer, introvert, cat-lady. Lover of books, fitness, old fashioned’s, basketball, and video games.

Follow me on Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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