Getting Stuck

Nov 2019

When you’re “Stuck.”

We love routine. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. It avoids the need to spend time and energy in the subtle art of deciding. We wake up to the same alarm at the same time every day. Make the same cup of coffee. We park in the same parking spot at work after driving the same commute to get there. What’s left of our paycheck drops into a retirement account so that someday we might “live comfortably.” We seem to like the safety of “the routine”.

Our routine can feel peaceful and flowing like a rowboat sliding gently down the same stream – freeing our minds to enjoy the ride.

Or it can feel like a trap – a mouse in a maze, a hamster on a wheel, or a free spirit trapped in a body, going through “the motions” while life drains uncomplainingly out of our tired eyes.

Our life is defined by how we feel right now. We are here because we choose to be here. It is currently the end of the path we have been following our entire lives. It is the sum total of everything we know and every decision we have made. And we can change it.

Change is simple. It’s usually terrifying and often painful – but nonetheless change is two-step simple.

Step 1 – Learn something new.

Step 2 – Do something different.

Learning something new.

There’s something important that you don’t know. It’s the key to a new life. It’s the doorway to a different world of challenges, opportunities, and experiences. If your life now is the culmination of your life’s knowledge and experience then your life tomorrow will have a new dimension based on what you’re about to learn.

It’s likely that you already know what it is that you need to learn. You talk to your friends about it. In a crowd of people you hear someone mention the subject and gravitate toward them. When you start talking about it, there’s a light in your eyes, a tremble in your stomach. It is attracting you.

Nothing comes to mind? Then pick something – anything. Trust your instincts to pick the right topic. You can always change your mind. When you start learning, you open the door to something new. Once open, the possibilities abound.

For me, it was learning Chinese. I was about 60 years old when I started studying it. I didn’t have a good answer when people asked my why. One of my favorite comments was from a man, about my age, who asked me “Aren’t you a little old to learn a new language?” Comments like that add heat and passion to my resolve. “Thanks, but I’m not dead yet.”

Maybe you’ll learn a language, a new skill, go back to school, get a part time job, read a book, start a hobby, there are no limits. Fortunately, you carry in your pocket unlimited access to the sum total of all the accumulated knowledge of the human species. Log on and learn anything you want.

Doing something different.

Today can either be like every other day, or it can be entirely different. We imagine that our schedule is fixed – we have people depending on us, commitments to keep, but it’s probably a lot more flexible then we imagine. If we don’t show up for work or don’t come home for dinner, there will be a price to pay – but usually a relatively small one.   

Do something different, unexpected, just to show yourself that you can. If you are “trapped” then you are a victim of your circumstances. Trapped is something that is done to you, that imprisons you. When you have been trapped you no longer have control or free will. You are in a cage and helpless. Unless you are actually in prison, then you are not trapped. By breaking the routine you are leaving the victim mode and entering a world where your life is under your control. You may choose to do the same thing every day and stick to your routine – but you are no longer trapped.

What to do? Step one, learn something new, suggested that you could learn anything at all. Step 2 is a little less open-ended.

We want to be a little more discerning with “Do something new” because almost all of the activities that come to mind won’t be, in fact, “new”. Taking the day off work off work, sitting on the couch and watching TV obviously does not qualify as something new. Taking a cab to the airport and buying a last-minute, one-way ticket to Zanzibar certainly qualifies, but might be too big of a first step. Fortunately there’s plenty of room in between.

Unless it is something that you already regularly do, consider being in service. Donate a day to the local food bank or offer to substitute teach at an adult education center. Maybe your school crossing guard needs a break. Volunteer someplace.

A day of pampering at a spa can be a nice break, and does serve to get you out of the victim mode, but it’s not “something different.” Better to look for something that opens doors – that doesn’t necessarily have to be finished when the day is over. And beware of things that feel good – really doing something something different is uncomfortable.

Other ideas might be go to church, one you’ve never imagined going to from a religion you’re not a part of. Drop in on a meeting of Toastmasters (a group for speakers), BNI (Business Networking International), Lions, Rotary, or Jaycee, or any other group you’ve never heard of. Check meetup.com. Ever been in a Kayak? How about a hot air balloon? Take an introductory flying lesson. Are you getting excited yet? Is your mind running through a host of half-crazy ideas? Go panhandle and give the money to charity.

Whatever you do, make it something that will surprise people. Their surprise is your indicator that it is, indeed, something different.

On Safety:

Most new ideas will not feel safe to you. This is in part why you’ve never done them before. Toastmasters, and the idea of public speaking may be frightening beyond measure, but it is safe. Panhandling, on the other hand, may be risky depending on where you are. Volunteering, and facing the poor and disadvantaged in your community is likely scary, at best uncomfortable, but safe. Pay attention to the difference and stay safe, but still allow yourself to be terrified.

On Commitment:

Now, when you are starting on this path, is probably not the best time to make a commitment. If “Do something new” suggests buying a dog, getting married, pregnant, or divorced, or any other long term commitment I’d like to suggest that you start a little smaller. Commitments are a great way to change the course of your life, but not a good way to prove something to yourself. At this point, you are trying to regain power over your life to get unstuck. This involves changing your attitude. Once you no longer feel stuck, you feel in control of your life, and are filled with a sense of opportunity and possibility – then you might consider getting a dog. For the most part, the bars of your prison are made of commitments – choose them wisely (said the commitment-phobe).

Changing your mind:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines…” “…Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I love that quote! It suggests that we feel free to change our minds with conviction when circumstances merit. Imagine spending your entire life believing vehemently in a thing, then coming to find out you were mistaken. Only a fool or a little politician would continue to hold onto the old idea.

The Magic Wand

“The pen, having writ, has written.”

The pen is your magic wand. Whatever you decide to do, write it down. When you make progress, write it down. When you change your mind, write it down. When you write something on paper with a pen it suddenly becomes real. There is no backspace or eraser that can wipe it out of existence. This is the first step to manifesting and it is a magical one.

So what about people who, in trying something different, change their mind too frequently? One day they decide to become a teacher, then two weeks later and artist, a designer, a writer, then a lawyer. How can a person get anywhere when they flit from subject to subject never accomplishing anything?

If they pay attention to their detractors then they will define themselves as flighty, uncommitted, non-functional, and virtually worthless.  If, though, they pay attention to their inner voice, then perhaps they are just trying to find the right thing. Or scared of success or of failure.

I’ve changed my career numerous times. After building a 10 year reputation in the alarm services industry I decided to leave it and become a computer expert. After several years building a successful computer company I shifted again into the solar energy industry.  After building a reputation there, I created a dog wheelchair company. Each time, friends and family thought I was nuts to build something then walk away from it. Had I stayed in alarm services I would probably be a VP of Honeywell Protection Services now, making a high six figure salary with stock options and retirement plans that guaranteed end of life abundance. All I needed to do was stay in the routine. Or I could have been fired by a cranky boss.

Not everybody can do that. I’m fortunate to be a fast learner and have had some lucky breaks. Plus, I have the privilege of being a straight white male born in the US. The point is that changing your mind is no more or less risky then staying in routine.