StuckJun 12, 2023
You know the feeling. You’re not where you want to be and you can’t seem to move on to…anywhere. You’re just stuck.
You can be stuck anywhere. In relationships, in your work or school, in your hobbies and avocations. When several of these types of stuck happen all at once (which is common), you can feel like your whole life is stuck. It happens to us all; the trick is to learn to deal with it and then try to prevent it, because it’s a part of life.
There are two immediate actions to take as soon as you realize you feel stuck. The first is to untangle the stuck.
Let’s say you have been in a romantic relationship for a couple of years (or more) but aren’t sure that your significant other is The One or if it might be time to move on. At the same time, your job is safe and comfortable, but doesn’t really pay enough to support the lifestyle you want. And you need that money because you don’t like where you live but all the better places are more expensive.
This is a special, dangerous kind of multi-stuck, where it is easy to become overwhelmed, disillusioned and discouraged. And you might give up and become a disgruntled mass of steaming resent and entitlement.
To untangle the stuck, write out all the things that make you feel stuck. Actually write them. This way they become real and you develop more clarity. And when you have written them, each of them is right there, staring you in the face.
In our example you will see that your stuck is really three situations, not one big insurmountable blob. You have a relationship issue, a job issue and a cost of living issue.
The second action is to realize that these issues did not happen to you. If you take responsibility for them, you will find you have a great deal of control in each.
Back to our example. Your S.O. (significant other) is doing too much of X and not enough of Y. Forcing your will upon the situation is the knee-jerk reaction – and exactly the wrong action to take.
“But what,” you say, “can I do about the situation if I can’t make them change?”
The answer is apparent as soon as you write that down, isn’t it? You can’t make anyone do anything you want in a functional relationship.
So then you say, “How can I take responsibility for something out of my control?” (God, stop whining!)
You can’t control what you don’t control. In this case, that means you can’t control the thoughts or behaviors of others. But you do have control over your communication with that S.O. and you have total control over how you react.
You can choose to express your frustration and fears in a calm and compassionate manner. Then, after you talk – and listen – you can choose the action you take, based on that conversation.
The same concept holds for the other situations you have untangled. You can try to negotiate a better salary, but you can’t make your job pay you more. And you can choose to look for a better job.
You can look for a better house or apartment within your price range, or you can find a way to make more money.
Notice how all of these solutions involve a choice?
A Matter of Choice
When you take responsibility for the parts of your situation over which you have control, you can then choose your response. This is huge, because when you see that there are actions under your control, you are no longer stuck.
All you have to do is decide which action you want to pursue.
You can choose to accept your S.O.’s actions. You can choose to work on a compromise that makes both of you happy. Or you can choose to walk away.
You can choose to remain in your safe, comfortable job and live within your means. You can choose to accept the uncertainty and learning curve of a new job that pays more. You can also choose to get more training and/or education to qualify for a better job, or change careers altogether.
You can find a better place to live that fits your budget, or you can choose to negotiate a better price. If your negotiation fails, you can choose to stay where you are, or find a way to make more money.
You are in the driver’s seat. And that is the primary difference between stuck and not stuck.
BEWARE: You can also choose to make no choice at all. If that’s your choice, you have chosen to remain stuck. Now you have to choose to be miserable or be ok with it, but realize it is your choice. No one has done anything to you.
So now you have untangled the issues that make you feel stuck. You have evaluated the areas over which you have control in each situation, and then examined your choices for each.
Now you realize that you are not stuck, you just need to decide how to proceed in each situation. Are you done? Not quite.
And A Matter of Discipline
Once you choose how to respond to your circumstances, you have to act. You can write and think and take responsibility and communicate and make choices all day; it means nothing without subsequent action on your part.
And in most cases, actions require discipline.
You decide to try to work things out with your S.O. It will take discipline to stay on that path and avoid a return to the same old patterns of communication. You decide to leave your (now not-so-) S.O. It will take discipline to forge a new path and not relapse into a suboptimal relationship just because it’s easier.
You decide to work toward a new position at your current job. You will have to put in the work to learn the new requirements, and then impress your boss with the fact that you are the right person for the position. Maybe you decide to move from apprentice to journeyman, or get a degree or start your own business, or finally work toward that E-9 rank. These choices will enable you to get that better house and better car, but you have to have the discipline necessary to do the work.
Remember, if you don’t have enough discipline to do the required work, you have chosen to take no action. And you have chosen to stay stuck.
Keep in mind that most significant life changes don’t happen overnight.
Progress Takes Time
None of my Navy friends decided to go for Chief and – Boom! Next weekend, “Here’s your anchor!” Nobody gets a degree in a month. It takes time to build sustainable businesses and it is highly unusual to go from newbie to foreman by your next birthday.
Discipline is a long-term play.
There is a very powerful reason that you became stuck in the first place: it’s easier to stay where you are. This is why people choose a series of jobs over a meaningful career. It’s why someone you know (probably several people you know) learned one job after high school and have done the same thing for 30 years – even when it didn’t suit them.
Good people stay in bad relationships and – tragically – lots of folks just give up in their 30’s or 40s or 50s because they fear doing what needs to be done to move ahead.
“But it will take so long…” is a commonly heard phrase in counselors’ offices. Time is going to pass anyway. You can choose to use the time to progress and become unstuck, or you can wish that you had.
As with most life changes, it is fear that keeps us stuck.
Embrace the Suck, Avoid the Stuck
It is not easy to work, raise a family and earn a degree (or 5). You will have to manifest tremendous determination to start a new business and nurture it to sustainability.
Those who move up through military ranks or corporate titles know the long term sacrifice necessary to succeed. My friends who have survived the rigorous military training required to become special operators have a phrase that expresses this need for discipline and determination:
Embrace the Suck.
You may not need the discipline of a Zen master or a Navy SEAL to move forward, but I guarantee that there will be times that the work of progress sucks.
And I have saved the best for last.
Progress Towards Purpose
We have examined what it takes to not be stuck, what it requires for you to progress. The logical question is, “Progress towards what?”
If you master this process, if you become adept at not becoming stuck, you will find that your life moves, as they say, in mysterious ways. Each time you do the work necessary to move beyond stuck, you will find that you are more satisfied with your life, have less anxiety and more happiness. And you will see ways in which your own path assists others.
You will move towards your purpose.
Your reason for being here lies on the other side of the responsibility and decisions and actions and discipline – past the suck.
In the end, purpose – your life purpose – is what will sustain you through the crushing tragedies and apparent meaninglessness that is a part of the human condition. A sense of purpose is, in fact, the only thing that will help you survive some of the things life has in store for you.
Make to the choice to do the work. Beat the stuck.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. You can reach me through the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or the blog section on my website. If this article as of value to you, please follow my Instagram and Twitter accounts. And be sure to subscribe to my River Of Creation podcast – The Podcast for Creators! – coming later this year.
Be well; do good!
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