Life is like a buffet; it’s never been easier to walk the line and selectively choose the things that grab your attention. And because of this, it’s also never been easier to feel stagnant when you get tired of things. You get bored with jobs, people, and activities, hell even cities. Feeling stuck in life is common, if not only for knowing you have so many options waiting for you.
If you’ve ever had this feeling of being stuck, you know it well. Here’s a scenario of what it feels like: let’s say you’re on a road trip with friends enjoying the hell out of life. It feels like the perfect getaway – you’ve got all your closest buddies with you, no worries to fret over, and plenty of memories in the making. Everyone’s laughing it up, munching on random rest stop snacks, and trading really dumb stories. Like really dumb. You’re somewhere out in the desert about to make your own little version of Burning Man, shrooms more than likely included.
Then at like 5 PM, just as dusk kicks in, your car’s back wheels get stuck in the desert sand. No problem; slight setback you figure. You give it some gas, and the wheels just spin while the engine goes into overdrive. You play this cat and mouse game for a few minutes, praying to the gods friction kicks in and you’ll be home free. But as you have it, your car isn’t moving an inch. You’re about as stuck as the time you used Elmer’s Glue in kindergarten to glue your thumb and index finger together. Talk about a buzzkill. And this is how feeling stuck in life is.
Before we begin, let’s break this guide down into two main parts:
- Why you feel stuck, and most importantly
- How can you go about getting unstuck.
It’s important to address the first one, because I can’t tell you how many times men (and women, as well) find themselves in the midst of feeling smothered to death by the ‘stuck feeling’ in life, without even knowing how they got there. You need to back up a second and see why it happened before you can go about knowing how to fix it.
Why You’re Feeling Stuck In Life
It starts with society
Society dictates how most people act and feel. If this sounds too much like The Matrix to you, you’re on to something. You’re born and raised to follow certain patterns, stuff you first see your parents do (because you grew up around them) and then from your friends in school and beyond. Most people including you don’t know any differently, and you can’t fault them. Society has certain “rules” that enable a comfortable but straightforward life.
Men need to do well in school, get a solid job, make a lot of money, find a wife and start a family, and then keep making a lot of money. Women have it even more straightforward: do well in school, get a job until you find a husband and start a family, and then damnit, make that your priority. But what if you don’t want to have kids or start a family? What if you don’t want to be stuck in a career making great money while hating your life every single day? How dare you.
A lot of these ideas of conforming to the traditional route come from society not even 50 years ago and doesn’t account for the world we now live in. But it doesn’t really matter because you see most people around you following a more traditional path, and you feel like you’re way off your rocker for attempting anything near the opposite. It doesn’t help you’ll get judged hard for it, too.
Society, and the masses around you who help keep it a well-oiled machine, are preventing you from taking massive action when you’re in the midst of feeling like you’re stuck. If 9 out of your 10 closest friends quit their jobs to pursue a passion, it would be a lot easier to follow in their footsteps than the reality, which is where you’ll have maybe one person attempting it.
The fear of losing out
Because society dictates most of what’s around you, it’s again imprinted in your brain that you shouldn’t risk losing out on two main things:
- Making money, and
- Increasing your skill sets in a job by staying put and not risking a gap in employment.
Well, what do you do when you’re feeling stuck in life and hate the career you’re in? You probably think of two things. One, you can’t possibly leave because your paycheck every two weeks will stop and you’ll die on the streets after a month. And two, it’ll look terrible on your resume when there’s a gap in employment.
This thought is so prevalent it’s annoying. Yet it’s the reality: you don’t want to leave something because you’re convinced you’re losing out on money and time. Plus your next employer is going to judge the fuck out of you for quitting before you interviewing with them. Banished to hell, you.
The other day my Lyft driver somehow brought this idea up about being stuck in bad careers, and the first thing out of his mouth was “it’s always good to make sure you get another job before leaving the current one.”
Let’s say I sat you down in a 3-star Michelin restaurant and laid out ten exceptionally delectable dishes, all of which resemble your favorite foods or look incredible. But after I sat you down, I also told you that you can only have three of these dishes, not all ten, and you had two minutes to decide. What would you do? How would you go about choosing them?
This analogy is basically how life works. We’re in an age of almost unlimited choices, and as much as I rag on society and what it dictates, there’s a lot of truth in knowing we have so many incredible options at our disposal. And this, unfortunately, presents a huge problem for the majority of you.
Ok, step one is complete: you know you’re feeling stuck in life. But step two, the ‘how to get unstuck’ crap, is the much, much, much harder part. It doesn’t help when you’ve got nearly unending possibilities. It’s never been easier to change careers, and I say that with a sense of knowing it’s still really fucking hard…but easier compared to let’s say, 30 years ago, where the traditional route of staying in a job for 40 years and retiring was the norm. Millennials, to their credit, have given everyone else hope that it’s possible to change more than once.
But the fact remains that you’ve got a thousand and one options to assess, and now you’re supposed to choose one or two, or three if you’re lucky, to explore. What if there’s 10 things, like those dishes, that you’d all love to try? You can’t afford to do that all at the same time in life.
How To Lose That ‘Feeling Stuck In Life’ Feeling
Now you want to work on getting unstuck, yeah? Buckle up. Here’s seven ideas to get you “unstuck”.
1. Laugh at it
Seriously, laugh at your perceived misfortune. Because really, life is a big joke anyway, and this probably won’t be the only time you harbor this feeling. So put on a huge smile, laugh at this idea of life being ridiculously hard (but not unfair), and put your big boy pants on. Remember that you and basically 99.937873476% of the population gets these same feelings, so next time someone looks like they have all their shit together…laugh, because they probably don’t.
Getting pissed and bitter doesn’t help you, your family, or your friends.
2. Get the right mindset
Life isn’t here to make things easy for you. You want the career of your dreams or that supposed elusive taste of happiness? You’ll have to get uncomfortable for it to happen. If you choose not to get uncomfortable, you can stay put. By all means, it’s the easy answer. Staying put means you won’t have to put your neck out on the line by risking failure, rejection, and all that stuff. But it also means you’ll risk losing out on success. And more importantly, you’ll have a lot of unanswered questions that will stick with you throughout your life if you choose the path of constant comfort.
In a twisted sense of irony, we attempt to stay comfortable in life by staying stuck in what we think we find comfortable, which actually turns out to make us extremely uncomfortable. Hence the whole ‘feeling stuck in life’ feeling. It’s a nagging, ugly, pervasive itch. It’s your mind’s way of telling you you’re better than where you find yourself at the moment. But we have to take action. And since that scares us, we think “nah I’m good” and sink back into the sofa, settling for status quo. But the status quo makes us uncomfortable. It’s a vicious cycle only you can break.
3. Find your core values
If your problem consists of knowing you’ve got 10 things you want to explore but no idea how to go about it, you’re actually doing well. For most, you probably don’t even know one or two things you’d want to explore. So now while you knowing you’re stuck in life, you also have no idea what your next move is because you have no idea what the next thing you want to explore is. Ouch.
Your first step, then, is to find your core values. What are your core values, exactly? They’re the ideas you hold deep down internally. It’s like the oil for your engine. With the right activities in place that focus on your core values, you constantly grease your gears and ensure you’ve got a well oiled machine with minimal friction. If you stray away from your values by engaging in activities or careers that don’t focus on them, you aren’t oiling your engine probably…and the friction gets greater and greater.
Your values are a list of what makes you unique. Everyone’s list is different. And it’s what makes you, you. It’s what makes you unique. I won’t spend the time here hashing it out, but go a head and read the article I wrote dedicated to finding your core values.
If you do any of the things listed here, focus on this one. Your core values are what drive your authenticity. Here’s a quick example: if one of your top core values is contribution, then what makes you think you’ll enjoy being a financial analyst working on Excel spreadsheets for a Fortune 10 bank? You’ll probably do much better in a career helping real people with real problems. Or at the very least, you’ll satisfy that value by engaging in volunteer opportunities.
4. Write down the things you enjoy, or think you’d enjoy
Did tap dancing look fun to you when you came across it on TV? It doesn’t matter how silly it may sound, write it down. Do you enjoy walking in nature? Does volunteering really get you going? Make note of it all. Nothing is off limits here. More importantly, try not to think of things based on how you think society will view it (or view you). This isn’t the time or place for that bullshit.
Dream big and pretend you’re the eight year old version of yourself. Write down everything that strikes your fancy, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. Use Google to your advantage. Start searching for random stuff. Come up with new things as you go along. Keep writing it all down.
5. Find the cross section between your core values and the things you enjoy or think you’d enjoy
This is where things get a little fun. After you list out your core values and then write out everything you think you’d enjoy (or currently do), you’ll start to see patterns where they intersect.
Using the example above, if one of your core values happens to be contribution, you may find yourself listing volunteerism as one of the things you enjoy or may enjoy. If health is one of your core values, you may have written down ‘cooking healthy food’ or ‘going to the gym’ as some things you enjoy.
You’ll begin seeing patterns, which are your opportunities to dive in and start figuring out a game plan to explore. Nothing leads to a happier, more fulfilled life than using your time doing things that light up your core values. It’s almost like a scientific experiment… take one part values, one part activities that hone in on those values, and the result is a more fulfilled, happier life.
6. Read a few self-help books
There’s two opposite views here on the self-help books thing. On one end are the people who hate them because they think it’s a lot of fluff and it’s all about going out and taking action. There’s validity to this sentiment, and I won’t argue its merits. On the other end are the people who constantly read self-help books, read invaluable hints and tips, but never take any action or implement those tips.
The sweetspot is the middle. I don’t care how much you hate the self-help books (and there’s a lot of bullshit ones out there filled with fluff), but there are a few which can provide you an alternative view on things, or give you a little kick in the ass to try something new or look at it differently. Get good at blocking out the fluff and get really good at honing in on the juicy details.
But for the love of god, don’t be one of those people who has a library of 200 self-help books all filled with highlights and notes, only to continue feeling stuck in life…because you never took any action.
7. Take a few baby steps
You can’t expect massive results after a few days or weeks, or even months. Change takes time, and it’s in the baby steps. We underestimate what we can do in a year, but overestimate what we can do in a day. If your to-do list looks like your Christmas wishlist to Santa in 5th grade, it may be time to take a step back and figure out why you’re constantly trying to do eight lofty goals at once.
Focus on one, complete it, and move to the next. If you want to change careers, do you really expect to be in your dream job in six months? Unrealistic if you ask me. Is it possible? Sure. Just set the right expectations.
You can’t take a huge leap like an Olympic long jumper and expect to land on your two feet. You’ll just overwhelm yourself, anyway. March forward, but do it in a way where you see results, because this creates an avalanche effect. The more you do small things that propel you forward, the more the avalanche picks up as it rolls downhill.
If you try taking some massive leap and you fail, of course you’ll hate your life and lose motivation to continue. Be smart about it. But don’t underestimate yourself, either.
Feeling stuck in life sucks. But it’s your way of letting you know you aren’t where you need to be. The constant nagging, heavy feeling means you haven’t really reached your true potential. Keep that in mind as you continue in your journey in life.