As the tepid water of my morning shower washes over my head, cascades down my body, and swirls into a puddle of suds collecting at my feet, I hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel playing in my head. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. Like an old record, it has been skipping in my brain throughout my life.
Well, I don't know why I came here tonight
I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair
And I'm wondering how I'll get down the stairs
Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am
Stuck in the middle of you
Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you
And I'm wondering what it is I should do
It's so hard to keep this smile from my face
Losing control, yeah, I'm all over the place
Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am
Stuck in the middle with you
Well, you started out with nothing
And you're proud that you're a self-made man
And your friends, they all come crawling
Slap you on the back and say
I find myself hearing this song play in my mind every time I’m feeling stuck in the middle of an uncomfortable situation, usually with the people I love. But today, I was struck with the realization that I've spent my entire life in the middle. So, you would think I’d be used to this by now.
Even though I am a firstborn in my family, I’ve spent my childhood playing the middle man. Looking back, it never stopped. In fights, discussions, or dilemmas, I have been caught between my parents, between my parents and my brothers, between my roommates in college, between my fitness clients and their goals, between patients and the holistic doctors I’ve worked for, between my elderly residents and their families, between my husband and his ex-wife, and between my stepsons and their parents. And this is the shortlist.
When I moved to California, one of my goals was to blend my take-no-prisoners East Coast work ethic with the laid-back, take-life-as-it-comes, sunny vibes mentality of the West Coast. Working and living on the East Coast can make you hard, especially in the New York tri-state area. I always felt stressed. And I could feel what it was doing to me, and I didn't like it.
I remember being told I was an extremist. I was always either one way or the other, never in between. I was even told that I tend to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," meaning I also tend to throw out the good in my attempts to eliminate the bad. I just don't like problems. I solve them. And being "all or nothing" was my go-to mindset.
A logical and practical person when it came to management and professional decisions, yes, I am black and white. I need organization and structure. I need to know the rules so that I know how to play the game. And I need to know where the limits and lines are so I know how to stay within boundaries. I don't like crossing them or having to read between the lines and risk being wrong. This is why the gray area always made me feel uncomfortable.
But in my personal life, I am nothing like that. I lived in the gray area my entire life, even though it felt like torture. Looking back, it's no wonder why I liked the structure, rules, and regulations in my job roles. Being in the middle of situations involving people I cared about felt like warfare, and I was always the casualty. There's a price to pay for being in the middle, and it's called stress.
As a biracial child of parents in an interracial marriage, I grew up with constant tension in my home. My Filipino mother struggled to raise three kids while transitioning to her new life in America. She was constantly harassed and racially discriminated against and disappointed in my father for drinking too much. My home felt like a war zone.
Because I was told I was smart, somehow I was expected to have the answers and solutions to our family problems. I was forced to know right from wrong, solve problems, and take sides in a marriage that didn't even belong to me. I felt responsible for handling situations I wasn't even ready for simply because I was the oldest and the good girl. I was loving, kind, honest, trustworthy, and reliable.
Being in the middle as a child eventually made me a good mediator, peacemaker, problem solver, and personal coach as an adult. I have learned how to remove myself from a situation to see it from all sides. I can walk around it, seeing it from every angle, and observe it objectively. As a result, I can present sound advice with more compassion and less judgment.
My intentions are always to create peace and win-win solutions. The torture comes from feeling responsible for other people’s happiness and fear of making the wrong calls. After all, I am human.
But today, I choose to see the gray areas of my life as a place of power. While some situations are tricky, I am embracing the gray areas and the times I find myself in the middle. I have cultivated enough inner strength and wisdom from my own life experiences and seen the positive results from sharing it. I am not perfect, but I am proud of myself for being seen as someone approachable, trustworthy, reasonable, and fair. These are compliments I do not take for granted anymore. I know how hard it is for people to share their innermost thoughts, feelings, and problems with someone. Sharing them feels like giving your power away. So, when people come to me with their problems or tell me their deepest and darkest secrets, I disarm their fears by creating a safe space where they do not feel judged, criticized, or unlovable.
Make peace with the gray areas in your life. When you find yourself feeling stuck in the middle of people or uncomfortable situations, step into your power. See your value instead.
It's not always about being right, it's about having the intention to do what's right.
These situations might be uncomfortable, but they are opportunities to assist others with your knowledge, expertise, or experience. Most importantly, they are portals of positive possibilities. Use them to share your guidance and wisdom and to elevate others with love, kindness, and compassion.
Use your power to spread positivity and create peace and harmony within yourself, with others, and with your environment.
Live, Love, and Lead with Aloha.