Embracing the Mess

A mess, even a big one, is not a tragedy. Even if something is so screwed up it has long reaching consequences that get worse with each day they are not addressed, they are still just messes, so long as they are not life threatening to someone.

It’s not easy to separate messes and screw ups from tragedies and dangers. I speak from personal experience. When I find myself in a mess, especially one that I contributed to myself, my first reaction is to run hither and yon and pound on every door, ask every question, research every aspect of it, in order to clean up the mess 100% as soon as possible. My default position is, “No messes. No trouble. Ever.”

The problem with that, as I have learned, is that you can whip yourself into a frenzy. Which causes you to miss things. Makes you more anxious about your problem. Which makes the problem seem worse, which increases your need to fix it right away, which leads to more frenzy and so on. Being constantly worried about how to get out of a mess is not productive. It has taken me years to realize this, and I still don’t put it into practice as often as I should. But I am working on it.

Without going into detail, I have had, and continue to have, a larger than normal mess in regards to my student loans. Mistakes. Financial difficulty. Misunderstandings. All of these things led me to be in quite a state in regards to my student loans. And the worry, fear, confusion, and lack of progress in fixing these unusual difficulties was beginning to affect other aspects of my life. So obsessed was I with solving each and every single solitary issue with my loans, right away, that I couldn’t seem to get a perspective on any of it, or even on things that were outside of the loan situation. I became convinced that if I did not get everything 100% right, and do so yesterday, I was going to be unable to move forward with anything in my life at all.

How far do you think that got me? If you are inclined to think it was like having a car stuck in the mud, and flooring the gas in order to get out, you are very perceptive. That is exactly what it was like. The more I pushed, and the faster I tried to get out of the mess, the deeper I dug myself into the mud. And the more mud I caused to fly all over anything that was near by.

Finally, at one point, I basically said, “fuck it”, and embraced the mess I was in. I did not ignore the mess. But I embraced it. I took several steps back, and admitted to myself, “I’m in one hell of a fix with all of these student loan errors. It’s a huge screw up, and my own ignorance is partly to blame. So are circumstances beyond my control. It’s a mess.”

Sound obvious? Surely I already knew that from the start of the troubles. And of course I did. But the difference is, I was trying to run as fast as I could to catch up with a snowballing problem. I was going bat shit crazy trying to make it all go away. But I had never really just accepted that I had a problem. I just wanted it gone, but in my zeal to get it gone, I neglected to just own the problem itself.

There was a stigma attached to having a financial problem. People would find out. I would look stupid. I would never be taken seriously as a writer, as an artist, or even as an adult, if I had student loan issues. People would find out, and I would have no value or worth in their eyes. The only way to ever be worth a damn in any facet of my life was to instantly fix every single mistake I had made in regards to the student loans. Worse yet, I even tied my self worth into the notion of my student loan screw ups. And I began to hate myself.

Things began to not only feel better, but actually get a little better the day I finally said, “Yep. Big mess. All kinds of issues need to be ironed out here. I made a mistake or two or seven. I have no idea how to fix any of it at all. But there it is.”

The simple act of admitting there was a mess in front of me, and especially the acknowledgment for the moment I had no damn clue what to do about it freed me up to first accept my predicament. Accept my ignorance. And extricate the loan debacle from my self worth as a human being. To define it for what it was: an unfortunate set of financial issues that had acted, and would continue to act as a set back in certain parts of my life, but did not have to dominate the other parts.

Not long after that, I was able to find the correct paper work I needed to begin addressing the problem. And though it is still a mess, I now see the nature of the mess, and what has to happen next to begin the next stage of clean up.

So, I say, embrace the messes in your life. If someone’s life, health, or safety is not at stake, you need to just calm down for a few days. When something is so big or so sloppy that you can’t fix it with a step or two, it’s probably big enough for you to step back from, and let the giant snow ball stop rolling before you approach it again. Yes, the mess may grow a bit before it shrinks. But if you are going to have to deal with a mess anyway, it might as well be a stationary one, instead of a nebulous moving blob.

How do you effectively deal with the large messes that crop up?


  1. I can very much so relate to the “shit bat crazy” reference. Over the years, I've come to effectively deal with complicated messes by writing everything down. My messes are normally a result of my tendency to over-commit. I'll write down all my commitments and mark which ones are high priority, which ones can get the axe without me feeling like I'll just die if I have to say 'no', and which ones can wait a little bit until I get my head above water. It normally takes me a couple days to evaluate the items on the list and in that time, the level of shit bat crazy urgency I feel fades a little.

  2. Thanks for reading Megan! And your idea of writing everything down is a good one. I have sometimes been known to do that as well. Or for that matter, I sometimes actually say out loud what i think all of the components of a problem are. It makes a mess more real, instead of feeling like a mythical beast that lives only inside of my head.

  3. The Lead Dog

    Glad to know I'm not the only one…but I got things most in perspective by remembering that bad news does not get better if you ignore it. Sort of like writing it all down, it is best to go ahead and acknowledge it so that it is out there for its place in the solving process.

  4. Exactly so. Even when you think you are solving it, you may actually just being running scared of it. By placing it in front of you verbally or in written form, it puts the problem “out there for its place in the solving process.” Nice way of putting it.

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