In my daily conversations with clients and friends over the years, a topic that comes up often is the feeling of “being stuck”. It is described as the emotional state of standing still and not being able to make a needed change and move forward.

Carla’s (not her real name) predicament is a good example of this state. She has been in the same job for the past 8 years, feels extremely underutilized and unhappy, and disagrees vehemently with the strategy and approach her boss creates for their department. She dutifully does her job despite this dissonance, but admits to wanting to make a change but feeling helpless and “stuck”.   It gets so bad that she has recurring health issues brought upon by stress and anxiety, and takes daily medication to ease her distress.

Carla repeatedly admits she needs to make a change and look for another job. But she is comfortable with the salary she makes and is worried that another job may not pay as much as she makes now. She also dreads the uproar of a major transition— “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t” she jokes. In addition, she reminds herself that she should be more grateful about having such a coveted job in her field, and sometimes secretly admonishes herself for the unhappiness she feels.

So what does she do?

She keeps on doing what she is doing, overtaxing herself with priorities and being busy—not allowing herself any time and space to think through her alternatives, decide to make a change, and make a plan to follow-through with it.

So there she is, self-described as “stuck”. She is unfulfilled, unhappy, and underutilized, but safely nestled in the zone of “comfortable” of the known status quo.

Getting “unstuck” is really a choice Carla or any of us can make at any time.   It involves putting ourselves in a corner and doing some serious, hard self-reflection. It requires dousing ourselves with some self-inflicted discomfort and confronting the deflecting or avoiding behaviors we adopt to keep us stagnant.

It involves asking these simple yet difficult questions and then acting upon the answers to them:

  • What is important to me? What do I want?
  • What am I willing to give up to align myself more fully to what is most important to me?
  • What am I not willing to sacrifice or give up?
  • What big change do I need to make?
  • What is my plan to make that change?
  • What is my deadline to execute on my plan?
  • How will I hold myself accountable and not slip back into my comfort zone?

Being “stuck” is a self-induced predicament we create to keep us in our comfort zones and to avoid making a change.

Getting “unstuck” is a choice we can make if we summon the courage to decide to do so.