Late last year, I created a poll on Elpha asking: "Do you feel fulfilled in your career right now?" and 57% of us responded no. This is a trend that stretches way beyond our community. More and more women have been voicing their lack of fulfillment at work and other areas of their lives.
I know the feeling well. A few years ago, a period of stuckness caused me to completely overhaul my life and career. Finding yourself stuck and unfulfilled is an uncomfortable place to be and can be incredibly lonely because many women fear the professional (or even social) repercussions if they were honest about how they are feeling. To help me better understand how to best help other women through this experience - I interviewed 50+ women from different sources about their relationship to fulfillment, authenticity, and stuckness. Through my research, I discovered a few key insights around what keeps us stuck.
Stuckness is a frustrating, yet inevitable, part of the human experience. Our lives are naturally made up of periods of movement, rest, and stuckness. Being stuck can be even more tiring than action because of the inner turmoil it causes. Have you ever noticed that when you are excited about what you are working on, you feel energized? The reverse is true. When we are stuck, there is a stress that comes from deep within, telling us that something isn't quite right. At first, it can start as a low hum, easy to ignore when we have noisier and more tangible responsibilities to address.
On top of being just plain busy, we get the message that strong people "power through", success requires sacrifice, it's normal to hate Mondays, or dating is supposed to be torture. It's no wonder that we ignore the signs of misalignment. We continue to grind it out, hustle, or overlook red flags, until the internal hum turns to a roar and becomes impossible to ignore.
Even when we attempt to create movement, it can be difficult to make positive traction. This is because the natural response to feeling stuck is to double-down on our efforts to escape. However, if you've ever used a Chinese finger trap, you know first-hand how ineffective brute force can be.
The most well-intentioned and practical advice can lead us to banging our head against the wall. Each hit a bruise to our self-esteem.
In these cases, it's not the level of effort that needs to change. What's needed is a deeper look at what's going on beneath. Once we get curious about the underlying causes of stuckness, we can reduce the amount of time spent in this painful place.
Here are 6 reasons that we stay stuck.
We are unclear on what we truly want
When we aren't clear on where we are headed, it's difficult to have the confidence or motivation to move forward. Once we have a clear path in mind, it's a lot easier to show up for the next steps.
How to Take Action: If you are struggling with figuring out what you want, a great place to begin is with what you don't want. Note the things that aren't working for you in that area of your life, and then reverse them.
We don’t truly believe what we want is achievable for us
There is nothing less motivating than feeling like your efforts will be in vain. This is one of the trickier ones to pin down because the disbelief is often at a subconscious or semiconscious level. We may think that we are all-in on our goal, but under the surface there are doubts that manifest into self-sabotaging behavior.
How to Take action: If you think that there is any part of you that doubts the feasibility of your goals, a great way to make it feel more realistic is to expose yourself to people who are where you would like to be. Find people in your ideal job, running your dream business, with great work/life balance, in an incredible relationship, or whatever it is that you want. Then, soak them in. If possible, have a conversation with them. If they aren't accessible directly, follow them online and read more about their story. Bonus, if you can relate to the person through their gender, race, economic or cultural background, sexual orientation, or geographic location. The point is to show yourself that this goal is attainable, for someone like you.
We aren't fully attuned to the cost of staying stuck
It's easy to focus on the risks of going after our dreams, without giving the same level of attention to what we risk by staying stagnant. In reality, inaction can have a far more detrimental impact. Whether it's to our quality of life, self esteem, or even our bank account.
How to Take action: Write out what the potential risks are if you decide not to take action on this goal. Explore what the effect could be on your life in 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years. If you'd like to explore this further, Tim Ferriss' Fear Setting exercise is a great place to start.
We are disconnected from our deeper why
Goals are easier to accomplish when they are connected to a greater purpose. Sometimes we aren't realizing a goal because it's not in alignment for us. We might be pursuing a "logical next step", what's expected of us, or what we wanted in the past. If it's not truly your desire, you may find yourself having a hard time making progress.
How to Take action: If you are having a hard time tracking your goal to a deeper purpose, try exploring why you want to accomplish this goal. If you don't already know your top 5 personal values, this is a great time to make that list. If a goal doesn't align with (most of) your top 5 values, you may want to reevaluate it.
We have conflicting desires
Sometimes we give our best effort and against all logic, we can't seem to achieve our goal. For example, we might have a monthly income goal and despite taking every intelligent action, we aren't hitting that number. Or, we might have a goal to stop procrastinating and despite all of our productivity hacks, we keep finding ourselves putting off our work. This can happen when we have two conflicting desires. Say, for example, you have a goal to bring in more monthly revenue to your business, but subconsciously you have a strong desire for freedom, and an (unexamined) belief that more money means more work.
How to Take action: If you’ve tried everything to reach your goal and can't seem to put your finger on why your efforts aren't reflected in your results, get curious. A couple of questions that you might journal on are: "What payoff am I getting through this behavior?" or "What am I afraid will happen if I reach this goal?".
We haven’t broken up our goal into bite-size action steps
Goals without a step-by-step action plan can be overwhelming. This seems straightforward but it can be easy to overlook. You don't need to have all the details of the plan to get started. In fact, just having clarity on your next step can be powerful and reduce overwhelm.
How to Take action: Ask yourself the following questions.
- What is a smaller micro-goal that I can achieve in the next week that maps to my bigger goal?
- What is the next task I can complete to make traction on that micro-goal?
Contrary to popular belief, big action doesn't have to feel forceful or difficult, if you know how to pull the right levers. When we get curious about what's happening under the surface, we can begin to gently and easily move the needle in the direction that will best serve us.
The benefits of getting curious about what's going on beneath the surface are exponential. Not only do we create traction in an area of our life that has been stagnant and boost our self-esteem, we also begin to naturally shift into alignment in other areas of our life. I regularly see clients who come in looking to get unstuck in their career, and are pleasantly surprised to see the ripple-effect that this greater awareness brings into all areas of their lives.
If you've been trying to make a change in your life but continue to find yourself stuck. Rather than forging ahead, allow yourself to take a step back and get curious about how the above points might be factoring into your situation. You may be surprised to see how easily you can get free, once you understand how the trap works.
Edit: Thanks for all the love on this post! This is such a common (read: normal) feeling and a big part of the work I do as a Transformational Coach. I know that I packed a lot in here - if you are resonating with this and would like to go deeper, feel free to send me a DM and I'll be happy to chat with you. :)