Messy Is the New Strong

People have always looked at me in wonder and asked the question: “How do you get so much done?” I usually take it as a compliment, but I know the question behind the question, which remains unspoken: “You’re all over the place…your brain works a hundred miles a minute…you are constantly forgetting and then remembering big ideas…you wear a million hats—as a wife, a mom, a businesswoman, an author, and a leader in your community…your life is about as nonstop as a Fast and Furious film…you wear your heart on your sleeve and don’t even attempt to keep your emotions under wraps—how the heck are you such a powerhouse???”

While I definitely don’t always get it right, it’s kind of true. My life is really, really messy. And I’m more than okay with that.

Messiness is central to my work with women and the message of Women For One. As women, we’ve all been lied to: Perfection and living up to society’s idealized images doesn’t lead to happiness. In the wake of a long and painful divorce and during a time I was simply trying to look like I had it all together—even though I was a complete mess on the inside—I had one of the most important epiphanies of my life.

Only when you surrender to the mess, do you discover your brilliance. Only when you embrace your mess, do you release the shame of the “shoulds” and “supposed to’s,” and discover the authentic core of who you are.

Unfortunately, women, perhaps more so than men, are conditioned to believe that our erratic emotions, our curvy bodies, and our nonlinear minds are simply not acceptable. (Don’t even get me started on the fact that there are entire industries devoted to stuff like cleaning up our smelly vaginas, snipping away at our flappy labia, bleaching our anuses, and doing away with our body hair.)

Our sense that we are “too much” is frowned upon by society at large, and even though we might try to soften our voices or squeeze ourselves down to a more socially acceptable size, the effort it takes to fit the golden standard is downright exhausting.

Are you exhausted yet?

So tell me, how does the word messy make you feel? What does it make you think of? Maybe it brings to mind your kitchen after a giant celebratory dinner party…or the excruciating sorrow-ecstasy-rage of a love affair that’s imprinted in your memory? Do you like messy? Can you handle messy? Or would you prefer to break out the proverbial dustpan and conceal all remnants of it altogether?

As humans, we live in an unpredictable world, so messiness is truly a fact of life—one that often gets pushed aside by our obsession with perfection. In order to come across as the perfect mother, lover, teacher, partner, businesswoman, or expert, many of us think we have to sacrifice the very thing that makes us most human. We truly believe that in order to be loved, we have to be seen as agreeable, orderly, nice, and, of course, perfect.

But here’s the truth, sister: Messiness is not about any of that. Now, when I talk about messy, I am not talking about dirty, grungy or nasty.

I’m talking about our brilliance and the marvelous totality of who we are.


Why Perfect Isn’t Desirable

We have all known that “perfect” woman in our lives. You know her when you see her: She follows every rule with precision. She rarely makes a mistake. She always operates within the bounds of what other people deem appropriate. To the outside observer, her life looks like smooth sailing because she never rocks the boat. Meaning “everyone” likes her. She limits her passion, her dreams, and her darkness enough so that people will always view her as a good woman.

Are you bored yet? I know I am!

She looks and sounds good on paper, but her predictability makes her seem empty. Because behind the facade, there’s a vibrant, unique woman who has lost touch with herself—specifically with that part of herself that actually makes you want to know her.

We have all tried to be this woman. I know I can certainly relate to her! But when we get caught up in this persona, we realize that it doesn’t bring us the golden ticket we are looking for. In fact, more often than not, it leads to disconnection and sadness. And when we are with women who have allowed the mask to settle a bit too tightly, we intuitively know that they are not being real—that, in fact, we are simply talking to the mask rather than her essence and her core.

There is also another kind of woman.

She doesn’t sweat the details, and she doesn’t let fear, shame, or guilt be obstacles to her joy. She appreciates both the pleasure of success and the lessons of failure—and both are important parts of her experience. She is at home wherever she finds herself, even if she’s a little underdressed. And while she isn’t always comfortable or happy or nice or accommodating, her deep connection to her truth is something that makes everyone sit up and take notice.

She has explored her edges, questioned her beliefs and surrendered to what she knows deep in her bones. As a result, she genuinely appreciates herself. Never for a second does she hide the bumps, imperfections, and not-so-happy-and-shiny experiences that have made her who she is. In fact, she celebrates her flaws and is totally transparent about them. She knows that her power lives in her messiness—which means she can relax, because perfection is a goal she ditched long ago.

Both of these women live inside us. We are a combination of each of them in different proportions at different times. But, if you could, which one would you choose to be at all times?


Honor Thy Mess

No matter which of the above options you chose, The race toward perfection is depleting and killing us slowly. It is crushing our spirits, diminishing our power, and stifling our voices.

In order to reclaim our power, we have to first claim our brilliant mess!

Let’s surrender to each and every aspect of our lives and who we are. No denial, no hiding, no shame—only a deep and humble “yes” to the parts of ourselves we might not even want to acknowledge.

When we claim our messiness, we redefine what it means to be a woman. We take ourselves out of the boxes that society places us in, and we find our freedom.

The truest, deepest joy you can possibly know isn’t about being the perfect mom, wife, daughter, or employee; it’s not about being sexy or feminine, or having a supermodel physique; it’s not about multitasking or making the honor roll; it’s not about being sweet and agreeable; it’s not about impressing everyone with your accomplishments or stuffing yourself into the cookie-cutter mold of she-who-has-everything.

It’s simply about claiming your brilliance…right in the middle of your mess.

We are all a mixture of beautiful and ugly parts—light and shadow that weave together to create a wondrous whole. We can absolutely own, love, and honor all of the strands of thread that make up our personal tapestry.

The great thing about relinquishing perfection and embracing our messy brilliance is that it places us smack in the center of who we are and what we are experiencing. It may not feel like it, but it’s a glorious act of faith. In doing away with the pretty exterior, we are simply present with ourselves. Naked. Free. Powerful. Truthful. Wild. Sensuous. Just ourselves. In this place, we can trust that we have all the resources we need to face ourselves, and the world. Because when we open up to life, life opens up to us.

That’s why messy is truly the new strong!


This is the first in a series of blogs about the power of owning your messy brilliance leading up to the publication of my book, Your Messy Brilliance, 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. When you pre-order Your Messy Brilliance today, you’ll claim a free seat in my upcoming course Embrace Your Messy Brilliance in 30 Days ($49 value). Click here to learn more.

And be sure to sign up for my daily email newsletter, Notes to My Messy Self, for a daily reminder of the powerhouse that you are. Sign up here.

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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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4 comments to "Messy Is the New Strong"

  • Omkari Williams


    I could not agree with you more. Too often the word “mess” is about things that make other people uncomfortable. When we are living in the truth of who we are we likely won’t fit into the tiny boxes that have been designated as “appropriate” for women.

    Bring me all of your complicated self and I will do the same, because that is where real connection lies. Bravo to busting out of boxes and standing in the light of our messy brilliance.

    Thanks so much for shining this light.

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      Women For One

      Hi Omkari,

      Thank you for sharing your response to my blog. You are so right that when we are living in the truth of who we are, we likely won’t fit into any boxes—and that’s the brilliance of it all! When we embrace our messy brilliance, each of us shines.

      Thank you again for reaching out.


  • Jenny Peters

    I love your article and can’t wait for ypur book. I just read that from adolescece to young adulthood girls’ self-esteem goes down and boys’ goes up. We need to empower women. Thanks for playing a role in that.

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      Women For One

      Thank you Jenny! I am honored to be a champion of women’s voices and truths, and to play a role in elevating and empowering women everywhere. If you haven’t already, make sure to pre-order my book so that you can get the bonus gift—free access to my new course, Embrace Your Messy Brilliance in 30 Days. Learn more at Xo