The (potential) upside to feeling stuck.

The (potential) upside to feeling stuck.

I have a long-lasting, deep-seated hatred of feeling stuck.

I love—perhaps need—to be able to get up and walk around while I’m working. I can sit still for hours but I hate to be forced to.

I go to great lengths to avoid sitting in the middle of a long aisle, because I don’t want to have to crawl across twenty people if I need to exit. I don’t like road trips but airplanes are worse—you can’t pull off to the side of the road when you’ve had enough confinement.

Being metaphorically stuck is equally horrible. I couldn’t commit to homeschooling until we had an exit strategy in place. I wanted to try home education, but I didn’t want to feel trapped by it. When I feel trapped, I start to panic.

When it comes to work, I like to have an idea of what’s next, for me or for my loved ones. It’s not that I’m planning on leaving. I just want to know I have the option to do so should the need arise. If I can see a way out, I’m more likely to stick around.

I’ve always been this way; it’s not terribly surprising, given the heavy “P” in my INFP personality. It’s been a fact of life, something that is: not a good thing, not a bad thing.

But it occurred to me recently, as my husband and I were discussing a few possibilities for our family’s ten-year plan, that my aversion to feeling stuck might not be so neutral after all. It verges on fearful, and fear is never a good basis for making decisions.

I’m also wondering if there’s an upside to feeling stuck. Put another way, it doesn’t have to mean “trapped,” as I tend to define it. It could mean stable, unmoving, committed—for the long haul. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Perhaps if I stuck around long enough to feel it, “stuck” and the restless energy it generates could be a cousin to the necessity that catalyzes so many innovations. I think I’m doing myself a favor by avoiding that feeling, but the more fruitful thing might be to stick around.

I admire stick-to-itiveness in others; I’d like to think I have that quality myself.

What if fleeing stuck lets me leave before I have the opportunity to glimpse the possibilities of the current situation, to wrestle my best ideas to the ground?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on feeling “stuck”—the good and the bad—in comments.

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  1. Katie says:

    I relate SO MUCH to this post! I’m interested to see the comments. I really struggle with this professionally and when it comes to my kids’ education. I’d love to homeschool them but I worry that I’d ruin them being able to function in the conventional school setting if it turned out I’m horrible at it. I’m a counselor by education and training so I have all kinds of thoughts as to why I always feel the need to know my escape options, but it is still something I struggle with.

  2. Stefani says:

    I never think of myself as “stuck”–that word signifies that I’m not in control. While you might use the word stuck, I prefer “still.” Being still allows for conservation of energy, room for reflections, and time for appreciation and gratitude. It’s like leaving an event with lots of people–you can get “stuck” in the thronging crowd leaving, or choose stillness and wait until more people leave. The same applies to life. If it’s (mostly) your choices, it’s stillness and that can be a good thing. (And in life, we are rarely completely stuck. If it feels like your “stuck” it’s time to re-evaluate and re-frame your decisions.)

  3. Katia says:

    This is very interesting. I also don’t enjoy feeling stuck, but I do like to feel stable and comfortable. I enjoy relocating and making a new home for myself and my family every few years, possibly because while growing up, my parents made several big moves. Although those moves were scary, they were also exciting for me. I find movement and change thrilling, and a lack thereof dull. I also think a fear of being stuck has something to do with the enjoyment of anticipation as we look forward to the next stage toward which we are moving, whereas staying in one place for a while encourages us to learn to be with what is happening right here, right now. Like you, Anne, I also admire people who stay comfortably in one place for a while. I perceive those people as disciplined. Yet, perhaps they are longing for a boost of courage that will allow them to get up and make the change for which they long. I suppose it’s different for everyone and the scenarios vary widely. My yoga practice has taught me to be okay with what is happening in this moment, to remain curious and open to the possibilities that present themselves. Yet, I still sometimes catch myself wishing that I could speed up time, to get to the next stage a little sooner. And I’m okay with that. We are always in a state of flux. Even when we remain in one place – whether it is by choice or by necessity – we are never truly still or stagnant. Fluctuations are inevitable and can be exciting. Yet, when they are *too* exciting, we crave stillness. It’s all a big, fun and often scary balancing act.

  4. Carrie says:

    Wow, I related to this post so very much. It is nice to know there are kindred spirits who cannot bear to feel “trapped” in a job or situation just like me. Thank you for sharing of yourself!

  5. Kara says:

    I can relate to this. To me, it means always being more comfortable and relaxed if I have choices. I love my job, but pursued a specific license that would allow me to do many different career paths if or when I come to a point where I need or want to do something different. I just like knowing options are there, even if I am perfectly content with where I’m at and what I’m doing. I think it appeals to my creative side: being able to see and imagine the possibilities that could be but aren’t right now.

    I have noticed that being “stuck” at different times in my life has been very helpful, though. It has helped me better refine what I want out of life or a particular experience. A spiritual director I saw for awhile once told me that it seemed like I needed to come to the end of a road completely in order to have a catalyst for going down an entirely new path. I need the “when push comes to shove” moment to generate the energy, motivation and follow through necessary to change (whether it’s a new job or changing our kiddo bedtime strategy).

    • Anne says:

      “It seemed like I needed to come to the end of a road completely in order to have a catalyst for going down an entirely new path.”

      That is very interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

  6. Grace says:

    Wow, while I was reading this I just kept thinking, “That is so not me,” haha. Then you mentioned the P in your Myer’s Briggs, and it made sense because I am an INFJ. I can relate to that stuck feeling you’re talking about, but I’ve never perceived it as feeling like I’m “stuck.” I think of it as commitment, and I use it as motivation to keep on going during unpleasant or difficult situations. It’s the only thing that makes me workout every morning and things like that. So, I don’t think it has to be a bad thing all the time.

    • Jeannie says:

      This comment expresses my feelings exactly – thanks. I just wanted to share a quote that I especially appreciated from Micha Boyett’s memoir Found, related to her exploration of Benedictine spirituality: “[The] vow to stability is the thing that sets Benedictines apart from every other monastic order, something I didn’t know when I first began to study Benedict’s Rule. It’s a concept that feels countercultural. After all, I am from a generation that values change above all else: technology and careers should always be evolving. We transform in order to remain necessary. If we don’t change, we’re left behind….
      Leaving often masquerades as the more courageous choice. But in reality it’s often easier to leave a relationship than to pursue it despite the difficulty. Stability demands forgiveness, discomfort and, often, a sacrifice of the more interesting, more exciting possibility. Stability is brave.” So yes, Anne, maybe “stuck-ness” does allow us time and space to come to terms with where we are right now and to see and embrace its possibilities.

  7. Melanie says:

    Your post was so timely. I am considering homeschool and wasn’t committing due to fear of what if…
    I always like to have an exit strategy. When I am stuck it is always based in fear.

  8. I rarely feel stuck, but I think that’s because I rarely am. There *is* always a way out; the question is will “out” be the best choice? In other words, stuck in the car on a road trip? No. We can stop anytime we want and eat or see a museum or spend the night at a hotel. Is that the best option? Maybe not. Depends on our schedule, our finances, etc. But it’s still my choice. Now I’m not stuck; I chose this.
    I graduated my first homeschooler last June (my second is in 10th) and every year was one year at a time. We just made a new decision every year, and every year homeschooling was the best option. Don’t be afraid of making decisions ~ there are very few that are permanent. 🙂

  9. Cathi says:

    This was a timely article. I have always viewed life as an adventure and loved it when movement was involved. I am, at this time, stuck! I homeschooled my three children and now they are all adults and living n their own. I have been a business owner, employee, and now a business owner again, but I am wondering if the business I am currently running is right. I am now sitting in this feeling of stuck and discomfort each leading to fear and frustration. I am pushing through the fear and hoping to find I am “unstuck” soon. I am an ESFJ so working from home lane probably doesn’t help?

  10. Lidia says:

    Whenever such period or feeling comes to my life I prefer to think that world and life is multidimensional and Feeling stuck in one dimension means there is some development in the other. And voila- you are not stuck anymore you just didn’t notice new turn.

  11. These have been my exact thoughts lately! I’m always looking for alternatives in case I need a change. My mom has always used the word “stick-to-itive ness” (or however you say it) as something that everyone needs to have a little bit of. Love this post!

  12. Colleen says:

    Oh yes.
    The scariest move I have ever made was moving back to my home town. In retrospect, I think much of my angst was from fear of being stuck. It feels like moving back automatically means staying…forever!
    We have stayed, in that our home base has remained in that home town for ten years now. And we have not stayed, in that, during those ten years, we have twice done a two-year stint of living overseas.
    Staying well – stick-to-itiveness – is hard work.
    Transitioning well is hard work of another sort.
    The key is to not do either one out of fear. That only happens when I am trusting God to help us and to show us when it’s time to get moving. Or time to stop moving.

  13. TXDidi says:

    I have similar feelings and for years, felt like there was something wrong with me. I finally read a book called “The Four Elements of Success” by Laurie Beth Jones that equates personality types to elements like “fire, and “wind.” When I realized that I was a strong “wind”, it suddenly made sense. I’m the type of person who blows into a situation, gets folks all inspired, motivated, and moving and then I have to move on, just like the wind. You can’t box up the wind and keep it in one place or situation. You might enjoy reading it, too. Just as long as we stick with things that really count, like a marriage and being a parent who is there for our children, I think there is nothing wrong with embracing the unique quirks of such personalities.

  14. Faith R says:

    I SO identify with this post. So much so that I wrote about it on my blog a couple days ago in a post called “hemmed in”. I feel like ever since I turned 30 I have struggled with feeling stuck in life. I have kids in school, one will be in high school next year!! It feels like my life somehow went into fast forward and I want to get off at the nearest exit, sit for a minute and check the map.
    But sometimes in the moments I have felt the most trapped by my life I have also felt like God was keeping me safe from things that would distract me from getting from point A to point B. I’m thankful for that now, even though it was painful to go through.

  15. Ashley says:

    I live a life of forced movement and change. My husband is in the military. I long for being stuck as you put it; stability, roots that go deep, a home to paint because we’re there more than 2 years. Left to my own devices I doubt I’d ever voluntarily change things much in my own life. I believe God knows this and chose a life where I’m unable to be stuck in my comfort zone. Maybe it all really comes down to feeling like we’re in control. And for me at least, being reminded I’m never ultimately in control.

  16. As an ENTJ, I wonder if it’s something to do with our framing or perspective. Through my personality, I tend to view everything as under “my” control. Of course this is absurd (God is the only one who can boast that), but it means I don’t feel stuck because I feel that I can do whatever I want whenever I want. And when I’m not moving, it’s because I choose it.

    Perhaps this is my version of you creating paths and “outs.” They are your way of being in control and not beholden. Same basic thing, different internal response.

    Love this.

  17. In April I began a new regimen of eating and exercise. I lot 40 pounds in 4 months. Then I became pregnant and miscarried a few weeks later. I became stuck for 2 months. Two whole months still exercising and dieting but stuck in the same number on the scale. I finally realized that my body was adjusting to pregnancy, then no pregnancy, getting rid of pregnancy hormones, stress, sadness and loss. Once I relaxed and stopped focusing on the item that was stuck. It un-stuck. I lost another 10 pounds. And again we are moving. Slowly. But moving. 🙂

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