Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How Do You Get "Unstuck"?

I've been talking to a lot of people lately who are just stuck. Maybe they've taken steps to do something daring and now they can't move. Or they've slowly gotten into a dead-end and there's no way out.

Truth is, I think most of us are "stuck" somewhere -- if you want to look at it that way. I mean, a mom raising her children could see herself as "stuck" at home. An accountant could feel "stuck" behind his desk. Hell, I spent hours at a bar one night listening to an actor (who just opened in a Broadway play) bemoan the fact that he was "stuck" in show business.

With a slightly different story, the mom might see her life as wonderfully free to be able to spend so much time with her kids rather than leave them in day care. The accountant may get a thrill from his work if he recognizes how much help he provides his clients. And the actor, well, the actor could spend 20 minutes in a "real job" and his complaint would be cured.

The real art to happiness is in mastering the story you tell yourself about where you are. Are you truly trapped? Is there no way out? Are there really no options? Or are you just afraid of the pain or anguish that might come from getting out? What's your role in being stuck? Be honest. How much responsibility do you have in this quagmire? You gotta get the story right if you want to move forward.

Maybe the problem is that there are too many options for us these days. I remember when a former professor of mine brought his family over from Eastern Europe in the mid 1980s. He took them to a small-town Safeway to buy some personal grooming products but when they got to the toiletries aisle, they became immobilized. Never had they seen so many products on a shelf. Where do you start to decide on something as mundane as toothpaste when you have never had a choice before? Too many options can lead to paralysis.

And we might make things worse by romanticizing work. I hear lots of folks describe their "dream" jobs that will never happen, either because it's a pipe dream or they have no clue how to get there. The idea of the glamour, fame, or wealth is so intoxicating, the fantasy of it can't be discarded for something as mundane as "real life." And yet, that's EXACTLY where the riches lie. In creating value for yourself and others. If you're looking for that electric charge that will jolt you out of bed every morning, you may have to lower your eyes to the human level and figure out how you can be of service in this world. What story would you like to be able to tell about yourself years from now?

I once knew a doctor who thought he had the most repetetive job in the world -- he couldn't see how his talent and skill helped each person he treated. No matter how much he offered his fellow humans, his job would always feel hollow.

With a little tweaking, he could have realized the rich life he was living. He already had a great story, he just had to learn a better way to tell it.


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