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Stuck as a puck in a duck

Are you stuck somewhere in your life? Yeah, probably. You know what I mean by stuck. It’s not just that you have a problem: a bad marriage, a bad job, a career going nowhere, a house that needs a lot of work. No, stuck means you have a problem you can’t get out of and can’t seem to fix, no matter what you do, no matter how you try to twist the Rubik’s cube of your dilemma. That’s stuck. Like being trapped in a traffic jam that just won’t end and has no exits.

So why do I say this shocking thing, that you’re probably stuck somewhere in your life? Because a huge majority of people are in the same situation as you are. According to a very recent study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, 77 percent of people feel stuck in their personal lives. Other studies put this figure as high as 80 percent. Fully half of us feel stuck in our financial situations alone.

Today we’re going to look at this problem of feeling stuck, what the experience is like, where it comes from, why it’s so hard to get out of. Next time, we’ll look at solutions.

So what is it like to feel stuck? It’s important to understand these ingredients.

  • You feel you’ve done everything, tried everything, looked under every rock to find a way out of your situation.

  • You feel hopeless.

  • If the situation is chronic but not desperate, you feel depressed. If the situation is desperate, you feel anxious. Commonly people feel both.

  • Your problem obsesses you, and you revolve all the factors around and around in your mind endlessly, without this mental and emotional effort producing any solution.

  • Everyone who offers help and advice ends up feeling frustrated, and you feel frustrated with them. It all just emphasizes how stuck you are.

  • You feel lonely, in large part because you’ve exhausted your store of people you can talk to about your never-ending stuckness.

  • You have this feeling that somehow you are sinking into a darker, more difficult place.

Now of course things vary from person to person. But these are the typical things going on inside someone in your situation.

This is nothing new. In his 1957 book The Sociological Imagination, the great sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote:

Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct: What ordinary men are directly aware of and what they try to do are bounded by the private orbits in which they live; their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family, neighborhood; in other milieu, they move vicariously and remain spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and of threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem to feel.

And the fact is, sad to say, that throughout history folks from kings to peasants have always been and have felt themselves to be trapped by their circumstances. The 99 percent of people who were peasants had no control over their lives whatsoever. But even the kings—with wealth and power—felt stuck in their roles and the powerful and complex forces they had to contend with. No king ever felt free.

But those folks way back then may not have felt stuck. Because they never expected anything other than their lot in life. In one way we have it worse. We have way more opportunities. But we’re brought up with the word FREEDOM. That word points to the essence of what America’s supposed to be about, which means it’s also at the very heart of what we’re led to expect from life. Freedom! Never, ever feeling stuck.

And then through all kinds of intertwining paths—student loans, bad bosses, mistakes in choosing a partner, downturns in the economy—we find that freedom is something that only applies to the 20 percent of us who don’t feel stuck.

And so blaming ourselves for our stuckness is a huge mistake. Only a superb degree of prudence and great luck can keep the wolves of stuckness at bay.

And you’re not stuck because you’re stupid. If only I had a nickel for all the super-smart people who came to me for help because they were seriously stuck in one way or another. But I do have those nickels!: they paid me for my help. In any case, they were just as stuck as your local village idiot. All it takes is getting laid off at age 52 from a job you thought was yours with a huge mortgage you know is yours.

So, okay: being stuck happens to most of us and it means being in a place where you just don’t know what to do. A great psychologist once said that intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. But if you feel your intelligence, along with the whole world, has failed you, here’s where the help comes in.

Being stuck doesn’t mean being doomed. Amazing as it may seem, lots of horribly stuck people do find a way out, and not by winning the lottery either. Next time we’ll talk about what they do that works that we all can do to help us break free.


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