Nick is a guy I greatly admire. Now you don’t know Nick; he’s not a famous person, and he’s never been mentioned in the New York Times, Forbes, or even Fortune magazine. But I respect the hell out of him. I respect him because he’s made a name for himself over the course of his career. He’s never been afraid to pave his own path, let alone feeling stuck. He’s never been afraid to step out and zig when everyone else zags.
How does he do it? I once asked him what the secret was, like it was some sort of hidden bonus.
“Adam…”, he said with a wry smile. I leaned in slightly, as if getting an inch closer to him would be the difference between a successful or shitty life.
“I hate to break it to you, but I don’t have any secrets.”
I was dumbfounded. I should’ve expected that kind of response. I looked at him in that moment with huge distaste, and he knew he better say something to help me out. So he continued:
“My father once told me ‘Nothing is a prison sentence’. It’s enabled me, or shall I say freed me up, to take risks. Because once you realize that you’re never stuck, in other words you’re never in prison…you’ll realize you have the freedom and power to explore.”
You’re Never Stuck, Even If You’re Feeling Stuck
Read that again. You know, for your own benefit.
Two areas of life seem to elude your best senses a lot of times. You can guess them: careers and relationships. I run into so many people who are absolutely miserable in their careers or with their partner, and will let you know in no uncertain terms through the fine art of complaining.
They’ll let loose a tirade of verbal litanies over their misery, yet never budge an inch on making any changes. They give in and throw the white flag.
Wait a second though. Since when has your life turned into an actual prison sentence?
In case you needed to be reminded of the difference between an actual prison sentence and being stuck in the wrong job or wrong relationship, let’s give it a roll:
Prison: In prison, you cannot leave. If you try to leave, you will be caught, returned, and charged with extra crimes. In turn, this puts you in prison for even longer.
Real Life: On the contrary, in real life, you can leave. If you try to leave, you will be free to do so and it’s your own choice to go back.
See the difference? Unfortunately, many people don’t.
Freedom of Choice
You see, let’s start with the obvious here: every decision you make won’t be the right one. I know it sucks to hear, but it’s the truth. Most times, we’re making decisions based on the information we have on hand, but it’s not always the correct one. A lot of that is out of our control. On occasion, we screw up and make a decision even if everything we need to make the opposite decision is right in front of us. And of course this lends itself to feeling stuck.
Ever dated the wrong person and knew it? That’s a classic example. Hey, such is life. Deal with it.
I think Nick is one of the lucky ones; he learned two important things early on:
A. Not every choice you make will be the right one, and
B. Nothing is set in stone.
If you live in the United States or any westernized country with a free democracy, you have the choice to do anything you want minus a few obvious illegal things. From how you dress to how you act, to choosing your partner or your career. You’d almost think it’s a detriment, because so many choices leaves you with a sense of what’s called analysis paralysis.
But the freedom of choice is a perk we take for granted in the western world. Why do you think you’re stuck where you are, then?
Think of a video game. You make a move, see what happens, and then sometimes you’re forced to backtrack to where you originally made a wrong move. It pisses you off that you have to redo some things because you made the wrong move. But whatever, it’s a video game for christ’s sake. In real life, you can’t backtrack to a previously saved game like you can in a video game. But you can make different decisions to counteract the ones you’ve already made. But you can’t waste time by not physically moving and taking steps.
You’re never stuck and you should never be in a position of feeling stuck. You’re never in prison. If you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you are, you need to shake that out. Like, starting right now.
Ask Yourself This One Thing Every Time You’re Feeling Stuck
If you try to look at life as fair or unfair, you’ll find yourself quickly falling down a dark rabbit hole. Nothing throws you in there like the ability to compare yourself to others and thinking things are unfair. I’m looking at you, Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat.
If you can take the comparison part out, you’ll realize life is just hard, and the choices you make will inevitably force you to confront hardships head on.
So what do you do when you feel stuck? I have a simple solution.
Anytime you’re feeling stuck, ask yourself one thing: Am I in an actual prison?
When you inevitably answer no, it comes with a certain freedom and comfort knowing that you’re not stuck; that you can, however long it takes, make choices which will help you get unstuck. Here’s a few examples:
- Alright, so you chose the wrong college major and started a career you hate. Ask yourself: Am I in prison? No.
- You got with the wrong person, and you are convinced they aren’t right for you. But you feel invested and stuck. Am I in prison? No.
- You’re ten years into a miserable career. You know it. I know it. Am I in prison? No.
- You decided to move to a new city and don’t really enjoy the city. Am I in prison? No.
Unless you’re physically sitting in a concrete 10×10 cell inside a state penitentiary, which I hope you aren’t, you’re not in prison.
So stop acting like you are.