As part of The Unstuck Project, I’ve been talking to a lot of people about being stuck. They’ve gifted me with incredible honesty, wisdom and vulnerability as they’ve talked about some of the toughest times in their lives. This is, without question, the most fascinating and fulfilling project I’ve ever worked on.
It’s still early days, I’m still less than halfway to my goal of 100 interviews, but some patterns are already emerging. Primarily, that stuckness is pervasive, personal and perplexing (but not in the way you think).
Stuck is Pervasive
It has not been difficult to find interview subjects for The Unstuck Project. About 95% of the people I ask agree to give me 45 minutes of their time without hesitation. Recently, perfect strangers have been volunteering for interviews through my website. People are up for it.
In turn, it has not been difficult for my interviewees to land on an incidence of stuckness to discuss. In fact, the biggest issue is choosing just one. My fellow alums from Seth Godin’s altMBA, who tend to be overachievers, often provide me with a menu of stuck incidents to pick from. People are into it.
It’s fascinating that people love to talk about their past and present stuckness so much. I ask for 45 minutes, but usually the subject will give me an hour or more. My longest interview was close to two hours. One subject had to run to a meeting, but asked me to join him on the subway ride there so we could continue our conversation.
I think many of them are looking for a form of validation. Often, they’ll preface their stuck story with a disclaimer, “It might not sound like I’m stuck, but that’s really how I’m feeling.”
And that’s because…
Stuck is Personal
The times in my life when I’ve felt the most stuck have been the times when to the outside world, I looked the least stuck. You can read more about that here.
What makes stuckness so personal is the meaning we attach to it. I, as an outside observer, might see your stuckness as merely a time of self-reflection and evolution. Or, I won’t see it at all. I’ll think you’re out in the world, kicking ass. That’s nice, but it doesn’t matter to you. You feel stuck.
And that can leave you fearful, angry, depressed, frustrated, or all of the above.
And that can lead to guilt and self-blame. I shouldn’t feel this way.
The meaning we attach to stuckness becomes: This is my fault. Or, I should do better. And the granddaddy of them all, I’m not good enough.
Which is why…
Stuck is Perplexing
Rather than dealing with the negative emotions of stuckness, many of us delude ourselves into thinking we’re not stuck at all because we’re so very busy doing stuff.
Here’s what that looks like:
There's so much urgent stuff, we never get to the important stuff.
We just have to do a little more planning.
We just have to do a little more research.
We refuse to see what the data are telling us. (a.k.a. denial).
We feel a sudden urge to rewrite our code base from scratch.
We can’t launch that thing. It’s not perfect yet.
We need more time to fire that person that needs to be fired.
We don’t want to talk about it.
What’s really happening is we’re doing stuck. In Strategic Intervention coaching, we call this "having a safe problem”. Safe problems are distractions we focus on rather than dealing with the “quality problem” that has us stuck in the first place. We can spend years on our safe problems. They're wonderfully comforting. They make us feel important (I'm so busy!), give us variety (there's so much to do!) and connect us to those around us (because we get to complain about our safe problems all the time, and in turn, listen to others complain about theirs). All the while, we stay stuck.
Why? Because of what we think it means.
Stuck is bad. Therefore I am bad for being stuck.
But what if stuck wasn’t bad?
What if there was beauty in stuck?
You’re stuck. Yay! There’s an opening. A window. And potential for a new beginning. It’s beautiful.
And now, you can create something new.