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How to Get Unstuck: A Case Study of the Past Few Months of My Life

How to get unstuck in life

Four months ago, I decided I wasn’t going to try to plan my next move after leaving Baltimore. I wrote in my Goodbye Baltimore post,

“I decided that I’m not going to let myself make plans until after my vacation because I need some space and perspective after the past two years in the Hopkins system. It really affected me and I’m confused about what I want in every way possible.”

Stuck at the gum wall in Seattle
“Stuck” at the gum wall in Seattle

I thought maybe if I had some space from Hopkins, I would be able to resent it less and apply for jobs in public health the way I had originally planned to when I started graduate school. Not that I expected to have some sort of “aha” moment while on vacation and suddenly know which direction I wanted to move in next, because I’ve done this transition thing enough times now to know that that’s generally not a thing.

But I figured I would clear my head and then make moves. I definitely didn’t expect to end up feeling as stuck as I did by August…then September…October…

I just really didn’t know what I wanted. I mean professionally, personally, geographically — I was like really, really confused.

(I say it in past tense like it’s all over now, but the truth is, being ‘unstuck’ for me just means being a bit less confused.)

Canoeing in Atlanta
When you just don’t know which way to steer in the boat of life :p

I’m guessing I’m not the only person in the world to ever feel stuck. To not know what you want. So now that I’m feeling slightly less stuck, I’m going to review the steps it took to get here. Bonus: you’ll get to learn about what I’ve been doing the past few months. Warning: it’s not that exciting 😀

How to get unstuck:

1. Revisit your past

After traveling in Europe with Gatien, I returned to Atlanta to live in my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house and attempt to make plans for whatever would come next. During that time, I revisited first my high school, with my high school ex-boyfriend who I hadn’t seen in five years, and then my elementary/middle school, with one of my really good friends from that time in my life.

The Davis Academy old photo
Part of our Davis family circa 2002-2004

I’ve also hung out with friends from high school who live in Atlanta – and sometimes people I hadn’t seen in years and years. I Skyped and Facebook chatted with friends I had met in Australia and in Thailand.

I know you’re probably thinking “okay, Michelle, so why was this helpful…?”

I didn’t realize it until afterwards, but revisiting my past in this way helped me remember the person I used to be. The things that made me happy then. My hobbies, friends, all of it. I was also re-exposed to different lifestyles and types of people. Open-minded, nonjudgmental people.

Remembering my former accomplishments and the awesome people I connected with who didn’t care whether I was a Successful Career Professional Person made me feel like my life was less stagnant.

2. Keep moving

Hiking and traveling to get unstuck
Hiking in Harper’s Ferry in Baltimore

I’ve bounced back and forth a few times over the past few months between staying at G’s place in Baltimore for weeks at a time and living in that childhood bedroom of mine in Atlanta. Changing up my surroundings has been super helpful because some of that physical change stimulates mental change.

New scenery outside, new scenery inside.

Also huge: I’ve made sure to keep exercising. Same principle here.

3. Get a therapist

If ya don’t see a therapist, and you’re feeling super stuck in life, get one ASAP! Due to anticipating that I wouldn’t be staying in one place (#2 above), I decided to try text-based therapy. You can read my review, but suffice it to say, my therapist has been really instrumental in helping me unstuck myself.

Island Ford
Introspective nature pic

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get used to the text therapy thing and for sure it lacks some major benefits of in-person therapy, but I really appreciate the convenience of it. Plus, I prefer to communicate through writing so it suits me really well.

Another idea is to seek out a career coach, but correct me if I’m wrong: there’s usually more to being stuck than just professional incertitudes (see #5 below).

4. Watch Buzzfeed videos

I’m not embarrassed to say I freakin love Buzzfeed videos.

Hot chocolate and whipped cream
Don’t forget to do things that feel good. Like sip a massive hot chocolate WITH A SIDE OF WHIPPED CREAM.

Why am I recommending something so unsubstantial? I know there are more cultivated means of entertainment and even self-development out there. I mean you could watch TED talks and look for insights in your free time; you could try meditation; you could volunteer. But damn guys it just feels good to laugh sometimes.

When you’re stuck, you spend most of your time thinking about yourself: what do I want to do, but if I do that then I won’t get this, I can’t do that maybe I should do this, but I don’t know if I want to do this…

Put those thoughts on hold and just enjoy something that isn’t all about what’s going on in your head.

Might I recommend Stoned People Get Surprised With A Sloth or anything from this Brittany and Chris playlist. I also really like the Ladylike series.

5. Figure out if there’s something holding you back

As it turns out, my resentment towards Hopkins was much stronger and went much deeper than I ever imagined. My therapist identified my overall experience as “traumatic”, which was a word I had never associated with what I perceived I went through. But when I reexamine how I felt the past two years, I recognize that I was reacting from a place of learned helplessness.

Follow me hiking in Baltimore
Is there something holding you back?

I knew I was angry at Hopkins but I also had been told a million times that I basically had no right or reason to be. People reading this now may still argue with me about this.

It doesn’t matter though what the facts were about my experiences. I felt helpless, starting from the point when I got accepted to the program and had to decide whether to take out loans or not, up until the point when I had to harass my advisor to sign my master’s essay approval form so I could graduate on time.

I couldn’t let go and move on because I was so deeply angry.

Working on these emotions with my therapist has probably been the most instrumental thing I’ve done to get unstuck.

Ask yourself if you’ve been in a situation in which you’ve felt or been made to feel helpless. Then talk to your therapist about anything that might come up and he or she should share some strategies with you to work through it.

6. Take personality tests

No, not the Buzzfeed ones! Haha

My therapist recommended the Enneagram test to me and after taking both a free online version and the official one, I learned I am decidedly a Type 4. I wrote about how this made me feel a bit in my last newsletter: essentially, I started identifying more with my creativity.

Not art sidewalk graffiti
Now it is.

I also took some free Myers & Briggs-esque personality tests online and found I am ENTP. I don’t think I completely fill the role of “The Debater”, as ENTP’s are called, but the following part really resonated with me in thinking about the type of work environment I thrive in:

“Really it all comes down to a sense of personal freedom, for ENTPs to know that they are allowed to apply themselves fully to understanding and solving the problems that interest them, without getting bogged down by social politics and trying to figure out what makes other people ‘tick’. Routine, structure and formal rules all feel like unnecessary hindrances to ENTPs, and they may find that their best careers yet allow them to engage their intellectual pursuits on their own terms, as freelance consultants or software engineers.”

Minus the software engineer thing, that’s pretty spot on. It’s like they’re reading my mind with the rules and social politics thing (and anyone who knows me is nodding in agreement right now).

ENTP meme
My fellow ENTP’s get it.

Overall, both tests told me things about myself that I kinda knew but didn’t know (if you know what I mean). When you’re feeling stuck, a ‘neutral’ outside opinion like this can nudge the needle in some – any! – direction.

7. Give it time, time, and more time

I know, I know, “give it time”: worst advice ever, right?

But know that you won’t be stuck forever. Everything eventually passes. Be patient and don’t give up. Getting frustrated with yourself feeds the stuckness. (I’m definitely still working on this.)

This too shall pass quote

Stuff that made me feel worse/more stuck:

Over the past few months, I’ve also been able to identify the things in my life that really were #NotHelping. I recommend staying away from the following things if you’re trying to be less stuck.

Being isolated

Living with my parents in suburbia was so isolating and at the same time I felt like I had zero privacy. This type of living situation does indeed work for some people – you know who you are. Otherwise, I recommend living with friends or roommates, and in a more densely populated region (not the suburbs!).

Not having a place to work/job hunt/sit at a desk

Getting unstuck goal: don’t sit in bed all day. Best way to achieve this goal: have another place to sit. Again, not super accessible for me back in Atlanta. At home, it’s either my bed or the kitchen table :/

Lack of access to food

If you’re stuck trying to make a life decision, you need to minimize the amount of decisions – big OR small – that you’re making in a day. You might have heard some people (e.g. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama) do this by basically wearing the same thing every day.

For me, making food happen was a huge challenge living in parents’ house in Atlanta. I had to deliberate, plan, or travel just to get a meal. (Let’s just say mealtime is not a teamwork activity in my family’s household.)

Being here in Baltimore has been so much better for my diet: I have an eating partner and a well-stocked kitchen.

Have you ever been stuck? What strategies have worked for you to get past it?

Feeling stuck in life lately? In this post, I go over the 7 steps that helped me feel less stuck in my life.
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  1. ROBERT LEE says:

    The hardest thing about getting stuck and moving forward is having the mindset and the discipline to control thought process, as well as manage emotion (negative ones). It is confusing, it can be hopeless, but when one has a desire to move on, then there are many ways to work towards solutions.

    At the core is the have that desire, without which there is no motivation to be productive in seeking ways and in this case, one could end up spending more time dwelling on the negativities and the reasons why it has been difficult.

    I am pretty sure you have it covered, and for other readers, perhaps this may be of value.


  2. Indrani says:

    Such thoughtful and helpful points!
    Life does bring us to such junctions where we see red in all directions. We need to be patient and the signals will be green soon. 🙂

  3. Vaisakhi says:

    So thoughtful! And I guess everyone has that part of life that somehow holds them back. I have always been very unsure of therapists so that is something I didnt relate to and Buzzfeed these days gives me a sense that they just come up with random lists even when it makes no sense. Otherwise…all the points…bang on!

    • mishvo says:

      I understand your feelings on therapists – I’ve had bad experiences as well. I think it really comes down to finding a good match, which is a huge challenge. But once you do, it’s worth it. And yeah Buzzfeed…can’t really argue with that. I’m not a huge fan of their listicles either but their videos do make me laugh!

  4. verushka says:

    We all at some point get stuck in a rut and if can seem like there is no point of return. I loved your tips and agree we do need reflection time as well as sometimes a look at the past helps us in the future.

  5. Sarah says:

    I love your modern take on sorting ourselves out and the metaphor about getting ‘unstuck’. For me, I need to spend my time in a productive way and give ample time for myself for developing hobbies and interests. If I lounge around too much, scroll on useless stuff on the internet and sleep in late etc, I often just feel worse!

  6. Suanlee says:

    Very thoughtful post. It may take a while and a few trips down memory lane and some re-assertions of yourself to figure out exactly which steps forward to take and what mindset to have and this post is great for helping with that!

  7. Laveena Sengar says:

    There is a part of everyone’s life where we are stuck in a situation and it seems very difficult to get out of that situation. Patience is something we need to keep in order let that situation pass. These are some wonderful tips and can help in a huge manner.

  8. Blair Villanueva says:

    Very honest and real post! Like you whenever I felt stuck on something, I also watch funny video clips on Buzzfeed and MetDaan… Once I smiled, I started to get back on track.

  9. Shane Prather says:

    I think it’s great that you acknowledge this feeling. I currently feel lost, stuck and overwhelmed and think I Can implement some of your suggestions to get “unstuck”

  10. Mimi says:

    Haha I get you so much – Buzzfeed videos can be so random and sometimes somehow .. helpful? They waste my time so much though as I can watch it all day and be entertained!

  11. Shannon says:

    Oh my god…it’s like im reading my own thoughts. I am the most confused person on the planet when it comes to careers..I am a caseworker at a nonprofit right now (social work) who is studying vet tech (kinda, taking a class at a time) but my real goal is to work in the animal rights movement, like an animal sanctuary or organization. So I am also considering nonprofit management and/or marketing, too! But recently I feel really stuck like you said…and I’m trying desperately to unstick myself. I think I may be feeling stuck because I also have not left home yet and know I need to be out on my own to know who I am more as a person, so I am working on that too. I feel like I am working on a million things at once and it’s exhausting, to say the least. Thank you for these tips and it is always lovely to meet someone who knows how hard it is! Sharing on my blog FB, too 🙂

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Shannon, I’m glad to hear this post resonated with you. I know the feeling of having so many options and feeling like you could excel in any direction that you become paralyzed and don’t know which way to go. It sounds like your experiences in the nonprofit world and studying vet tech are really good background for working in animal rights. The advice I often get (and know is good but struggle to follow) is to stop thinking and DO. I’ll be working on that! Thanks for the comment and share. I love what’s going on on your blog – gratitudes are super helpful during stuck times like these!

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