Feeling Stuck Has Nothing to Do with Emotion

Besides having nothing to do with its own title, I couldn't disagree more with the overall message, the quality, and the philosophy behind a recent article I read.

Feeling stuck has absolutely nothing to do with the "feeling" part. If you're stuck, you're just stuck. It's circumstantial. The repercussions may be felt, but the reality is completely external. Today, I want to talk a little more concretely than others do about what it means to be stuck and why you might be.

PREVIEW: Being stuck in your own life is being fixed in a particular position or circumstance, unable to move or be moved. It means where you are, however that may be reasonably described, is where you'll stay unless something comes along and moves the unmovable.

First, let me very briefly outline why the above article fails philosophically and practically:

  1. Hidden shame may cause you to act defensively, but you can't transfer your shame to anyone else. You can only try to blame others for things they either do or do not deserve to be blamed for.

  2. Whether realistic or not, feeling the need to perfect that which you do comes only from a desire for outcomes typically associated with doing things perfectly (or at least very well). This is not a defense mechanism, it's an offensive human move.

  3. And last, feeling shame-ridden never caused a politician to tell a lie. Again, fear of consequences is the main driver. And it applies for the average-Joe just the same.

Second, and more to the point, let me even more briefly explain why this article fails to live up to its title: shame has nothing to do with feeling stuck. It only has to do with feeling shameful.

Sometimes, there isn't more knowledge we need to know. It's just right there. Simple. Nothing deeper needed.

This is one of those times. If you feel shameful, you probably saw something better than what you are or did. The extent to which you feel shameful, however, is probably the main reason anyone talks about shame, as opposed to blame, in the first place. And that's simply due to the fact that everyone uses different (and mostly imperfect) methods for evaluating the extent to which they fall short of any particular standard.

So, to conclude on that point, you should feel shame to an extent in your life that reflects the downstream effects of personal responsibility and appropriate vectors of blame. In other words, if you're due some criticism, you'll rightly feel it a bit. Then just accept it and find a way to move on in a better way.

I actually think most people get this at least a little bit, which is why I'm blowing past it. Here's what most people don't get, though.

Most people feel stuck. Most.

Let that sink in for a moment. And as you do, if stuck is you, then begin with me a process of reflection that isn't really all that difficult but requires an incredible amount of work to work through. Here's your start.

First, be willing to recognize that your feeling of stuckness may or may not mean that you are, in fact, stuck. You might just be allowing yourself to feel that way without looking concretely at what you do, how you're doing it, and why.

Which leads me to my next and deeper point. Since my larger argument is that feeling stuck doesn't have anything to do with being stuck, what I mean by discovering whether or not you are stuck is that you need to see what your life looks like to have an inkling. Being stuck is concrete and circumstantial, which means it's an actual something you can see. It's observable. Feeling it matters little, especially since your perception could be made-up if you don't take time to see anything at all.

So next, let's do something important. Let's define "stuck." My handy Apple dictionary tells me that being stuck means to "be fixed in a particular position or unable to move or be moved." Notice anything non-physical, here?

Neither do I.

This definition of stuck is so helpful that I have little to add. Being stuck in your own life is being fixed in a particular position or circumstance, unable to move or be moved. It means where you are, however that may be reasonably described, is where you'll stay unless something comes along and moves the unmovable.

And now that we've defined the word, the circumstance really, we need to talk about normativity. This is basically a big word that refers to the body of philosophy surrounding the word "should," a word central to the Findlife Coaching philosophy. Since it's clear to me that so many people misunderstand what stuck really is, before I go talking about how to identify your stuckness, we have to be willing to acknowledge that there may be more than just bad forms of being stuck. Sometimes, it may be good.

Some people like having the same job and not feeling a need to make a change. Others like their spouse, who they've been with since their small-town high school prom. And others like their 15 year old, rusty pickup truck. While these examples don't quite get at what most people are talking about when they tell me they feel stuck, it starts to get at the point in two ways.

First, feeling stuck tends to refer to the jobs we do or the relationships we have. So even these over-simplified examples touch on the major topics people typically talk about when they say they're stuck. Perhaps, you can relate.

And second, if you don't feel stuck it's probably because you like what's in your life. You might be OK with less than perfect, and you might feel satisfied with consistency in your life. The fact is, people always and only talk about being stuck as if it's a bad thing.

Well, it isn't necessarily.

But there are a few problems here. Perhaps, you've noticed already. That person who's been satisfied for years with the job they work may actually represent what it means to be stuck in a job without other options. Which means, for that person, despite not feeling stuck they may actually be stuck and may at some point or later date experience the repercussions that typically come from not developing, maturing, growing, and changing. It's a latent, unrecognized kind of stuck.

Which means they're actually stuck. And they don't even know it, which is largely because the world tells them that to be stuck means they need to feel it. That impulse, however, is so intensely wrong that it leads us down a path where we cannot look at our lives and determine whether or not we're stuck, let alone know what to do with that knowledge.

Now, I think at this point it's safe to say I've proven the title. For every feeling of stuck you have there's a possibility that you may or may not actually be stuck, and it may or may not be a good thing. Simply put, "it depends."

But if you're open to the truth that being stuck is not something felt and instead something real, then you'll probably like what I have to say next.

Here's how you start to identify whether or not you're stuck. First, have you been doing the same thing for awhile? I mean to the point that your friends, family, or colleagues go out of their way to ask you if you're going to make a change soon? This is often a very simple and common tipoff that you're stuck in one place.

Next, think about how infrequently you ask yourself, "What's next in my life?" If this phrase never occurs to you, you're probably stuck doing the same things in the same ways with the same people. You probably don't pursue much change.

And a third tipoff, if your circumstance is in any way less than ideal, there's probably at least one thing you're not doing that you could be doing. Which means, at least in some way, you're stuck.

But after hearing that, you're probably thinking: "well, Tom, nobody has an ideal situation." Correct! This would mean that everybody is stuck.

And that's the truth. Everyone is stuck.

The question is not whether or not you're stuck. The question is really: in what ways are you stuck and to what extent? When you start looking at all the ways that your stuckness sticks, you'll come to a better realization that feeling stuck is just another way of describing your shortcomings, the things that make you imperfect and simultaneously keep you from becoming perfect. It's you not having a plan forward. It's you not working toward something better, something more significant.

And sadly, that's normal. It's human.

Thus, you'll always feel and be stuck in some way. How you handle that, however, is really the greatest test of character. How will you handle it?

To the point, you have to be the mover of the unmovable, otherwise you'll risk waiting around all your life for someone or something else to make a change for you; which rarely happens.

So to make a move, you have to be strategic and specific about your life. You have to answer life's biggest questions. And then you have to act out on those answers in responsible, goal-oriented, and specific ways. And perhaps, if you're lucky, you'll reach the end of your life saying something different than most: "Though I may be stuck and about to be made permanently stuck, at least I did something about it. I never stopped trying to keep stuck from sticking."

My epitaph someday, I hope, will read: "stuck never stuck with him."


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