Did you ever think to yourself, “Why am I still doing this?” It might be sticking with a job you don’t like or an old habit, or hanging around with friends that tear you down. It’s so easy to do. I know I do it. I stick with old familiar patterns and habits while vociferously complaining about them and wishing for something to change.

Naturally, this has led me to study the subject of being stuck. Here are some of my observations.

It’s easier to stay stuck …

than to try and picture what a different course of action would look like. I frequently find myself stymied because of a lack of imagination and trust. Let’s tackle the lack of imagination first. Sometimes I just can’t picture how I could approach, say, my writing routine differently.

I sit at my desk, look at my priority list with writing sitting in the place of honor at the top of the list and I ignore it. I return an email or read a business article or work on my calendar. Anything but writing.

I recently read an article (probably while avoiding writing) about creating an enticing place to do the work you dread. The author suggested working in a favorite chair in a favorite room or going to a favorite coffee shop or writing in a beautiful notebook (sure, I already have, like 52 of those and I still don’t write in them).

Resisting change, again!

Here comes the lack of trust. The article made sense to me. I even thought about going to Mugs, my favorite coffee shop, to write. Thought about it. Didn’t do it. I didn’t hop in the car and drive over to Mugs because I didn’t believe that it would make a difference – although – wait for it – I know I write more when I’m not in my office. How do I know this? Because I’ve done it!! Nuts, right?

Maybe not. In a previous post on resisting change, I wrote about the book Immunity to Change. The authors talk about how seductive it is to stay stuck in the pain you’re already familiar with instead of striking out in search of what is bound to be new pain.

Guilty. In my prehistoric lizard brain, I’m afraid of what would happen if I created habit of writing regularly. Would I really write that speech and book that I’ve said I was going to write? Or would I fail?

Well, guess what? If I don’t write the darn things I can’t fail and I sure can’t succeed either. Staying stuck in the habit of not writing is actually a decision to not write. And it’s designed to keep me right where I am right now. Darn it.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

SMH (smack my head). Raise your hand if you fall into this trap! I know, right? Painful. This is the fear that keeps people working for the same horrible company for years at a time. It’s the dread of looking for a new job, the terror of thinking we might not measure up. And it makes us numb to the real pain we’re experiencing.

It’s not that we can’t imagine ourselves anywhere else, we can. We could be working at one of those very cool tech companies. But wait! What if those companies really don’t exist? And, even worse, what if that next company is even worse than the one we’re working for right now?

See how we do that? We make up things to be afraid of so we will have a reason to stay where we are.

And we stay stuck. We don’t seriously explore other companies or jobs. We say we’re not qualified, or we make too much money where we are, or we should be grateful to have this job. We quake at the idea of looking for new opportunities. It’s better to stay where we are than to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable.

One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. – Paulo Coelho

The Bottom Line

Getting unstuck boils down to two things: crashing through the illusion of safety and letting go of our expectations.

When we closely and carefully examine a situation where we are stuck, we realize that our feeling of safety is an illusion. Sure, we’ve been working at that company for decades. But there’s no guarantee that the company will be there tomorrow or next month or next year. We’re assuming status quo – that nothing will change. We totally ignore that everything changes.

When I work with clients who are bogged down in the illusion that the jobs they hate are safe refuges from uncertainty, I point out that the very fact that they hate their jobs makes them the source of uncertainty every day. In fact, it puts them in jeopardy of acting out and losing their jobs. Stay with me here…

The Universe wants you to succeed in your life.

If you hate your job or the company you work for, your brain knows it. The Universe knows it. And the Universe wants you to be successful, content, fulfilled. I’ve had clients in this situation find themselves laid off, paired with someone who seems determined to get them fired, or assigned work that they just cannot do. They are forced to confront their fears and move forward in spite of themselves. When they catch their breath and move forward, they find better, more fulfilling work.

Then there are our expectations. We should be able to work at one company for 20 or 30 years, retire, and be set. The companies where we work should be invested in our growth, appreciate our talents, and pay us accordingly. We shouldn’t have to change jobs at age 45 or 50 or 55. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

Expectations = Premeditated Disappointments

Here’s something I learned years ago in Al-Anon: an expectation is a premeditated disappointment. Whoa and wow. Expectations sets us up for disappointment.

We create expectations to combat fear, deal with uncertainty, and anchor ourselves in the face of change. We expect that our jobs will pay us well, that our managers will show us respect, our co-workers will be cooperative, and that everything we were told in our interview was true and will happen.

But what happens when those expectations are not met? We are shattered. We don’t know how to proceed. Our efforts at controlling our fears through those expectations didn’t work. Things change quickly and we don’t know what to do.

What if we did this?

What if we shifted our perspective? We can choose to embrace the change. We can look at the changes as opportunities to grow –to become unstuck. We can get creative and look for solutions within us or within our work group. Instead of thinking “What if this all goes wrong?” we can switch to thinking “What if it all goes right? What would that look like?” and look for opportunities to make it work out.

We can find a new normal. When we open ourselves up to the possibility that things could go right, they do!

Let go of expectations.

I have learned to live by this quote from  The Best Exotic Hotel Marigold for the Old and Beautiful:

Everything will be all right in the end…if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.

I find that things work out when I let go of my expectations, particularly the expectation that a certain outcome will be best or right for me.

For example, when I created the Women’s Tech Conservatory program, I expected it to come together with a certain number of people. But it didn’t. And I was scared that the program wasn’t going to work out. I kept worrying that this was the end. It was never going to work.

But it did. It worked out in spite of my doubts. It worked out both differently and better – and – it took me a solid week to realize that it had worked out. The first cohort is all set. What I thought was the end was in fact the beginning!

The Universe will move you forward

Here’s the thing. When you realize you need to change what you’re doing – whether it’s your work, your relationships, or your habits – the Universe steps up to help you move forward if you let it.

Realizing that you both need and want to change things up unleashes major positive energy in your favor. So get unstuck. Strike out and go for those things you’ve always wanted. It will be all right in the end.