I can clearly remember the times in my adult life when I felt stuck and unsure of what to do next. It happened during my senior year of college while on the job hunt, and then again a few years later when I decided to change course in my career. There were even moments in between, where personal and professional concerns overlapped all at once (and yes, I’m still working on those).
I’m going to bet that you’ve felt stuck at some point too – because the feeling is a frustrating but very normal occurrence.
Uncertainty happens. Feeling stuck from time to time is par for the course for any ambitious professional. It’s when that uncertainty begins to hold us back that we need to start coming to a solution.
So how do we get there? Our instinct may be to devote all of our willpower towards finding the answer quickly, but we actually stand to gain more by stepping away. When we temporarily disconnect from whatever is bothering us, we can open our minds to the solution by seeking inspiration from other areas of our lives. This works on many different levels; it could be as small as figuring out how to move forward with a work project, or as monumental as coming to terms with the fact that your heart isn’t really invested in your business idea. There’s clarity in distance.
That doesn’t mean that while we’re disengaging, we should sit and do nothing. Remember, we’re pulling inspiration by applying focus to other areas of our lives. When you’re disconnecting, be sure to do at least one of the following:
Do activities that bring you inner peace.
Almost without fail, my mind feels worlds lighter after going for a walk. Perhaps your clarity comes from exercising, cooking, reading, meditation, listening to music, or art. Whatever it is, figure out which activities bring you the most happiness and make time for them, especially if you’ve neglected them. If you don’t know what your hobbies are, here’s why this is a great time to figure it out.
Tap into your creativity.
Hobbies give us purpose and art allows us to create. In addition to your peaceful activity, seek out opportunities that exercise the creative muscles in your brain. Also note that creativity isn’t limited to conventional definitions of art: any activity where you’re building something from the ground up can qualify (like building a website, cooking a meal, or even building a robot. By the way, if you’re reading this and you can build a robot, that’s pretty cool).
Step outside of your element.
Sometimes a change of pace is enough to get us in the right mindset. Have you been thinking about taking up fiction writing or signing up for that online coding class? What about that trip you’ve been wanting to take? Step outside of your element by learning a new skill, going somewhere new or changing up your routine. It could be the one thing you didn’t know you needed.
As an aside, I’m living this tip right now with this blog. It’s worked out so far.
Human connection: talk to somebody.
It feels good to make time to connect with family members and friends that we haven’t seen in awhile. Reach out to loved ones, because even if you lean on the introverted or anti-social end of the spectrum, there are people in this world that you care for who also care about you. Simply being reminded of that can make us feel a little lighter and a lot happier.
After we’ve given ourselves some breathing room, it’s time to come back to the issue and refocus. Then, if an answer is still not jumping out at us, we can take the following steps:
Connect with mentors and former colleagues.
My mentors have been a great sounding board for career-related dilemmas (and to an appropriate extent, some personal questions too!). Consider reaching out to mentors, former supervisors and coworkers for insight, particularly when it comes to questions you may have surrounding career steps. These are folks who have had the chance to work with you, and as outsiders, they are poised to offer a perspective that you might not have even considered.
Do some research.
Sometimes we need to drown ourselves in the literature of an issue before a solution presents itself. A trip to the library or a couple of hours of web searching may be what you need to make an informed decision, so that you can understand the options available and what you stand to gain (or lose) with each. However, do this responsibly: if you’re the type to go down the mental rabbit-hole, the internet can be your enemy here.
Tip: As a frequent rabbit-hole diver, I am totally guilty of letting worst-case scenarios get the better of my logic. That’s why I’ve trained myself to be picky about the URL’s I choose to open. Blogs or sites with a .org/.edu address tend to make the cut, while I avoid public forums like Yahoo Answers and Reddit. It’s not that those platforms don’t offer helpful perspectives – they do – but given the open nature of any forum, it’s also easier to find content that is misleading or distasteful.
Figure out your goals.
Sometimes, deciding what to do next is a matter of being brutally honest about what we want. What do you want the end result for that project to be, and how will pivoting one way or the other bring you closer to that? How does your preferred lifestyle relate to the types of careers you should be considering? Whatever the dilemma, ask yourself what you want the outcome to look like. Particularly when we begin to feel pressure (both real and imaginary) from family & peers, reaffirming our own wants can help us separate what’s important from the rest of the noise going on in our heads.
Finally, set time to get to work.
As a relative once told me, the difference between a dream and a plan is a timeline. Regardless of whether this thing takes twenty minutes or twenty weeks to solve, carve out time to focus exclusively on working through your dilemma and nothing else. You’ve already given yourself the mental break you needed by disconnecting, and now as with all things, you’ve got to put in the work.
Tip: For goals that just feel insurmountable, break those down into smaller steps or questions to be answered. Figuring out my next career move required me to understand what options were available based on my interests, and to eventually apply to jobs. This generated two separate task lists that not only helped me to be more productive, but kept me occupied enough that I hardly had time to dwell on the larger, shaky picture of my future.
I won’t tell you to ‘stay positive’, because that is such obvious advice that you’ve probably heard from way too many people already! Do be patient with yourself, don’t fall into the comparison trap, and remember that we all get stuck at some point. The people who seem happy and successful, if they truly are, didn’t get that way because the answers came to them every time.
What did you do the last time you felt stuck? Was there something in particular that you found really helpful?