Many 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.
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