Getting ‘Unstuck’: Creating the Life You Want

woman waiting for trainMany of us have heard the expression that life is not a straight line but, rather, a series of curves that go up and down. At times your “ups” are way up, and sometimes your “downs” are way down. What do you do when you are neither up nor down? What do you do when you are floating somewhere in the middle? What do you do when you are stuck?

A big part of life is making choices. You have to choose your career/job, whether to be in a relationship, where you want to live, and the list goes on and on. Many of these choices are made in your twenties, when most people first go out on their own. For some, this embarkation comes right out of high school; for others, it is after college or graduate school. Until this point, your parents may have made some choices for you.

Some choices are clear and the transitions smooth. Other choices are not so easy. Sometimes the choice you make is the lesser of two evils. There are times when you feel unsatisfied with your life and believe that making some major changes will make you happier. If you feel this way, it is important to look at the circumstances of your life and analyze whether you are truly stuck or just in between transitional stages.

When you feel stuck, here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you stuck or simply “waiting for the train”?

“Waiting for the train” refers to times when you feel unhappy and powerless in your present circumstances, but to make any major changes would take you off course and possibly make it harder for you to reach your goal. For example, maybe you are in a job that you don’t really like but plan to start graduate school next year. Maybe your partner is finishing up school and it is matter of time when the two of you can move to a different city. If you are at the point in your life where you are “waiting for the train,” it is important to focus on your goal, find enjoyment in your everyday activities, and learn to “be here now.”

Since you have already made a major decision or choice, what can you do to make this time more enjoyable? We have all been in the literal situation of “waiting for the train” (or bus, or cab, or airplane). Thinking back on the last time you had to wait for something or someone, what did you do with this extra time? Did you stand and tap your foot, fuming, feeling frustrated and upset until the train showed up? Or did you read that book everyone has been talking about? Which was more pleasurable? Which made the time go faster? While the answer may seem obvious, it is surprising how many times we catch ourselves in this place, angry and upset about having to wait for someone or something that is out of our control.

To make the time enjoyable and valuable, think about things you don’t take the time to think about during the day. Is there a hobby you have wanted to pursue? What books, music, or movies have you been meaning to read, listen to, or watch? Is there someone you have been thinking about and would like to call or visit?

2. If you really are stuck, how you do you get out?

If it is clear that you are not waiting for anything or anyone and you truly are stuck, what do you do now?

  • Be easy on yourself. Making choices can be overwhelming and stressful, and the more pressure you place on yourself to make the “right one” will make the process more difficult.
  • Figure out which choices are changeable.

Think about the aspects of your life that make you unhappy and divide them into groups—the things you can change and the things you cannot. For example, you may find that you can’t realistically quit your job right now. Not being able to quit your job before you get a new one is out of your control. But you can be actively looking for a new job. By looking for another job, you are taking action and making changes which are under your control. But what is also in your control is your attitude. You have the ability to think about your job in a new way. What are things about the job you like, and what can you do to make each day better? What is your attitude when you show up to work? Are you already in a bad mood, and does that carry throughout your day?

3. What are some of the positives of being stuck?

Viktor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” At times, being stuck can be a good thing because the experience of being less grounded creates true creativity. Feeling unsure or ungrounded about yourself and your future gives you the chance to look at the choices you have made that are making you unhappy. When you make a poor decision, like a job or a relationship, it is easier to see what went wrong. My father is a former golf champion, and he would always say that when he won a game, he never knew which hole he won it on, but when he lost he always knew the hole he lost it on.

Next time you are feeling stuck, be willing to take a look at your life and be honest with yourself about what is working and what needs to change. Your attitude and perception of a situation can make more of a difference than anything else. In the end, if we really want to get unstuck, we have to start with ourselves.


Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning, Pocket Books, New York, NY, 1959.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Tess Brigham, MA, LMFT, Women's Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • patricia e

    September 19th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    For me, the title of the article says it all. “Creating the life I want”. I am not the person who is going to sit around and wait for life to happen to me- I am the person who is more apt to go out and create the life that I want. I learned a very long time ago that I am wasting a whole lot of time sitting and waiting for life to happen around me. Things don’t always come to those who wait- the things you wnat come to those who go out and get it, so I decided to become one of those people. I have seen far too many lives wasted over time spent drumming their fingers and waiting for it to happen. It doesn’t. I wish that more and more people would grasp the message that life is a process and it is a journey, but it is pretty much nothing without you making the commitment to take the reins and steer it in the direction you wnat to go.

  • Joanne

    September 21st, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    For so long I was stuck in the rut of what I thought that my life was supposed to be that I forgot all about what I really wanted it to be. I lived for a long time trying to make iot live up to the expectations of my family, my kids, my friends, but never up to my own.

    It wasn’t until I took a step back and realized just how unhappy I was with doing that that I have really been able to start living my life to what I feel is it’s full potential. I didn’t have to get a divorce or leave the kids behind or even change careers, but I did have to start taking some time out for me and making myself and my own needs a priority without trying to feel too very guilty doing it. And that’s been hard but no one said life is easy right?

  • Yaya

    September 23rd, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    If you ask me there are people who know they are stuck, and they like that feeling that being a mrtyr creates for them. Or at least what they perceive that it creates for them. Don’t you know those people who always seems to be fising for synpathy, wanting to hear from others just how bad they really do have it? When the reality is that if they would just try to change a few things, then it would be just that- they could actually make some positive change in their lives and start to feel better. But there are those people who would rather live in a quagmire of despair instead of trying to get out of it. That’s what they thrive upon, telling everyone how bad things are and looking for someone to feel sorry for them. Those are the people for whom I have no tolerance for at all.

  • D Johnson MFT

    September 27th, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Being stuck is most often due to being emotionally, and therefore relationally, stuck.

    None of the suggestions will really help many people – this is just another shortcut recipe that leaves the root causes of this “stuckness” alone and unaddressed.

    Stop the symptom management merry-go-round!!!!!!

  • Jane D

    April 1st, 2014 at 1:03 AM

    I agree. I’ve been chronically stuck for many years, meaning, even though I was either working, or involved in a negative relationship
    I didn’t know I was stuck, until several years ago, I was graced with awareness of my empty, unfulfilled life. Even though i have made great strides, I am fully aware of my present stuckness. Through my current therapy, we are just starting to go below the surface. I believe for me, my stuckness is a learned thing, joined by the hip with trauma. If anyone is looking for a pat answer, it’s much more serious than that. I guess it depends on other factors.

  • kate

    August 9th, 2014 at 9:05 PM

    I’m 30 and have been stuck for far to long. I’m a single mother and live far away from any family. I am so lost and I too have trama attached to myself. Any advice or words of wisdom wld be appreciated. I need to feel free and happy…but Idk what to do next

  • Irma

    July 17th, 2017 at 8:30 AM

    I married the love I of my life.we both lived in two different state so we decided to sale both houses my house sold first and when it came to selling his he refuse with all kind of excuses we are in a very small town and we both don’t like it . I am soooooo unhappy living in this town the people are not friendly they keep a lot of confusion so I stay to myself for the last 4 yrs of my life I’ve lived in a shell I feel like I am looking who I am in order to maintain my marriage I feel stuck and Don’t want to walk away because I love my husband but what about my happiness all I want is a balance life and friends anyone of our friends come visit they don’t like this town either I am at a crossroad in my life.

  • Alice

    July 17th, 2017 at 11:20 AM

    It sounds to me that you need to put yourself first. you can loose your identity and your direction 4 yrs is a long time to live an isolated life you need balance get out and get active because the walls is closing in you especially when you’ve had a very active life I have been there where you are and that is not good coming from a large city to a small was very hard for me to make the adjustment so I decided to move to a larger city now my life is active I’m active in church,I go to the gym,and I have good friends and we do things together and I maintain a very healthy marriage life couldn’t get any better.your husband is in a comfort zone and it’s going to be hard for him to see it from your eyes but If he truly love you he will meet you in the middle because a marriage involve two not one person

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