Feeling Stuck? What to do when life kicks you out.

Sandra was content at her job. She wasn’t looking to take on a leadership role or be the CEO; she liked her comfortable and steady role in quality control. Rather than climbing the corporate ladder, she preferred to stay under the radar and was unwilling to take on more responsibility.

Known for being exceptionally gifted in many areas of leadership, Sandra was also commended for her technical skills and attention to detail. Even though she was humble and avoided praise, she was flooded with it by her peers, her leadership and her customers.

Because of her great performance, Sandra’s boss had asked her many times to consider taking on a more formal leadership role, but she resisted. Deep down, Sandra knew she was not content and that she was not growing, but she feared that if she took on more responsibility she would fail, and she didn’t want to let others down. It was easier if she just stayed in place.

Eventually her boss and others stopped asking her to step up and she was left to do what she felt comfortable doing. No more, no less. Over the next couple of years, the company grew, but Sandra did not. Many around her were promoted to roles of increasing responsibility. Sandra found herself now working for others who were less competent and capable than she, and slowly she felt herself becoming resentful and restless.  

At some point, it happens to all of us: we’re going around in circles getting nowhere. Initiatives fall flat. We fail to rise to challenges. A new position from restructuring or even promotion just doesn’t feel right. Passion is lacking, we feel purposeless and we’re waiting…waiting…for something to change.

It’s called being stuck.

While it might feel easier to stay stuck in a familiar situation than to deal with change, eventually, being stuck can start to hurt.

In our book, The Courageous Leader we explain that this is the sting of your life kicking you out and telling you it’s time to either go deeper or move on from a stagnant situation.

Going deeper

Going deeper is about finding ways to take the current life experiences you have to the next level. At work, at home, in your community. Going deeper in its most simplistic terms is about becoming curious all over again about the things that are already in your life and exploring them with a renewed passion. At work, that could mean taking on new and expansive responsibilities or broadening your network of contacts in the industry or moving to a new product line. It could mean taking an advanced certification that enriches your expertise in your field. It could mean seeking out a mentor. The list of ways to go deeper are endless when you finally commit to making a change to your current situation.

Moving on

Moving on is exactly what it sounds like — seeking other opportunities outside of your current situation. Instead of finding a way to shift at work, you might leave your organization. Perhaps you’ll even move to a new city.

But how do you choose whether going deeper or moving on is the right option?

When your life kicks you out, it doesn’t always specify how to change, only that you must change. Because this is a personal question, we can only answer this with the wisdom that’s come from our own personal experiences:

Start by recognizing that pain is a healthy part of leadership and life.

First, know that feeling the pain of stagnation is healthy because it’s a signal that change is needed. Additionally, in times of growth and transition, things often get worse before they get better.  Embracing this takes courage and may cause discomfort, but doing so will bring the reward of growth and evolution.

Assess whether the change you need involves:

  • Moving on by changing jobs, starting a business or relocating to a new city; or
  • Going deeper with your current life experiences by taking them to the next level.

Ask the right question

Rather than asking, “Should I stay in this role (this company, this relationship, this community), or should I move on?” Ask, “What will bring me the greatest growth that is in my control to change?”

Trust the process. As tempted as you might be, don’t rush the process of determining whether to move on or go deeper. If you don’t have the answer, then you don’t have the answer. You can’t force the elusive butterfly to land on you until it’s ready.

Seek clarity, not absolute certainty.

When you start down this path, seek clarity for yourself and what you want, but don’t make absolute certainty your goal. None of us likes ambiguity about important things in our life, but expecting absolute certainty can send you spiraling into the abyss of ambiguity, rather than saving you from it. Clarity, on the other hand, is available to us in time and with reflective experience. In some cases, when life kicks you out, the answers are obvious. Our former CEO, Angela, experienced this personally when three separate people told her, in the same day, that she’d love living in Denver at a time when she was feeling stagnant in her life in Missouri.  That sparked my curiosity and interest, and sure enough, she moved to Denver and found new success — and met her future husband.

In other cases, the answers are more subtle.

Regardless of how the answers come, they do come. You just have to acknowledge the pain, be open to change, and ask the right questions.

Be patient.

The process may take time, but if you stick with it, it will resolve and new doors will open.

Whether you need to move on entirely or go deeper, the kind of growth required to get unstuck takes courage because change is inevitably painful.  But the pain will be temporary, while the transformational change you instigate will be lasting – like the growth it will bring.

~Personify Leadership

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