Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths
by Timothy Butler
Focus: Health and Wellness – Healthy Mindset/Positive Outlook; Career – Career Change
• “Psychological impasse,” though unsettling and uncomfortable, is an important milepost in life.
• Many people mistakenly regard an impasse as checkmate instead of an open door.
• From impasse, you can chart an entirely new vision and path.
• Most people do not move ahead in life in a straightforward, sequential manner.
• Established patterns and habits are comfortable, so people resist change.
• To embrace change and move valiantly ahead, you must let part of your old persona die.
• Consider all the options available to you; don’t let fear hold you back. You can get “unstuck.”
• Use an intuitive, not an analytical, approach to contemplating a new direction in life.
• Impasse must lead to choice, then action. Anything else is fantasy.
Never make a serious life change without first testing it out as thoroughly as possible.
What You Will Learn
You will learn:
1) Why psychological impasse is often needed to achieve a meaningful life turnaround;
2) How to use mental exercises to move beyond a frustrating impasse; and
3) How these exercises and other steps can help you chart a new, rewarding path.
You are going along great, then suddenly everything blows up in your face. Maybe you got fired. You lost your money in the stock market. Whatever it is, you now are in deep crisis. Even if you haven’t been struck with a disaster, perhaps you’ve been feeling a deep sense of unease. You are not sure when, how or why, but you somehow made a transition from feeling happy to being worried and depressed. In short, something is wrong and you are not sure what it is. You are stuck in the mud and don’t know how to get out. You are scared to make a move. You are stuck and at an impasse. Mustering old strategies to deal with new emergencies is normal. You feel the need to act fast, somehow, whether it helps or not. But now is not the time for bold action. Don’t make a move. Slow down. This feeling is uncomfortable, but don’t turn away – and don’t be afraid of the impasse. In mythology, the dark can be useful. In the dark, your senses become more acute, so trust your senses and your intuition. Do not flee. Instead, embrace the impasse. See it as a portal out of the dark, and into a new, better life.
At a Standstill
You feel bewildered and perplexed. Impasse is a time to reflect, a time of self-examination and the needed prelude to growth. Without impasse, many people would continue to put one foot in front of the other, never trying new paths. But impasse stops people cold. It says, “Your old way hasn’t been working. Isn’t it time to try something new?” Be aware that change, in whatever form, will not come easy. Your ego will try to keep you fastened to your old habits. The ego hates change and will fight it. You can look closely at the old fears that rule your life – then find a way to move beyond them.
These ghosts and fears often represent the voices of people from our early lives: our parents, a sibling, a teacher, someone in authority. When their messages are negative, your task in life is to move beyond these voices. Putting those voices aside can take a lifetime, but you must do it. Unfortunately, most people cling to what they know, even if it is painful. Sigmund Freud called it the “superego.” By whatever name, it is the brake that stops you from trying new things. It tells you not to trust your instincts because they are worthless. But impasse is not a box. It is an open gate. You can go through it, and find a new and better “you” that didn’t previously exist.
Let It Go
An impasse is an epiphany. It enables you to put aside your “mental models,” to look at the world differently and to see new possibilities. The most effective way to do this is by using a mental exercise known as “free attention.” Sit straight but comfortably in a chair. Place your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. Gaze straight ahead. Become aware of all of your sensations, internal and external. Focus only on them. Do not muster your feelings, thoughts and judgments. Let them develop spontaneously. Now, focus on your right hand, specifically, the palm. Don’t look at it. Focus your mind on it. You will become aware that thoughts and perceptions are interfering with your focus. Ignore them. Think only of your palm. Make it the entire world.
Now reorient to your right kneecap. Hold your attention there. Think about your breathing. Your breath is all there is. As you focus your attention, you may experience a sense of sadness or fear. Do not fight it. It is the ego, retreating from the new perceptual frontier you are creating. When you engage in free attention, you clear out a space for perceptiveness that is central to your being. In so doing, you can begin to sense that some of your thoughts aren’t valid. Free attention puts you directly in the here and now. It helps you become “unstuck” and shift to a new understanding of things. This impasse may be a sign that you have not been attentive to the primary tensions and themes in your life. Stop. See them for what they are. Smell the roses. Do not analyze your impasse experience. Trust your intuitive powers to help you discover a fuller, more all-encompassing meaning than anything provided by mere analysis.
Another way to get in better touch with yourself is the “100 jobs” mental exercise. It can help you identify your primal life themes, and is particularly good if you are at a career impasse. First, read through the following list of 100 jobs. Operating instinctively, select the dozen that interest you the most. You may find the idea of being a “music composer” exciting even if you have a tin ear. Rank your choices 1 through 12. Review your list for themes that encompass several of your choices. Try to find “dynamic tensions” in jobs that seem to be exact opposites. In a free attention mode, attempt to experience spontaneous images that develop as a result of listing these 12 jobs. Note all the images, themes and dynamic tensions that occur to you. Do not assign the images to categories. The point is to expand your understanding of the primary themes that affect you, in your work and your life. This enables you to understand your essence, what you hold most important, and what you find most engaging. Most crucial: It tells you about the self that awaits discovery.
The 100 jobs are: “1) marketing researcher; 2) child-care worker; 3) computer software designer; 4) sports coach; 5) manufacturing plant manager; 6) retail store salesperson; 7) social services professional; 8) high-tech products salesperson; 9) litigator; 10) psychotherapist; 11) retail store manager; 12) public relations professional; 13) advertising executive; 14) TV talk-show host; 15) theologian; 16) speech therapist; 17) newscaster; 18) secretary; 19) auto mechanic; 20) electrician; 21) entertainer; 22) optometrist; 23) actor; 24) hospital manager; 25) fine artist; 26) school superintendent; 27) product development team leader; 28) religious counselor; 29) financial analyst; 30) TV or film director; 31) personal finance advisor; 32) human resources director; 33) graphic designer; 34) economist; 35) business strategy consultant; 36) homemaker; 37) senior military leader; 38) CEO; 39) librarian; 40) R&D manager; 41) real estate developer; 42) music composer; 43) veterinarian; 44) ad copywriter; 45) manufacturing business senior manager; 46) nurse; 47) ship captain; 48) research sociologist; 49) information systems manager; 50) investigative reporter; 51) medical researcher; 52) CFO; 53) office manager; 54) police officer; 55) investment banker; 56) restaurant manager; 57) entrepreneur; 58) vacation resort manager; 59) electrical engineer; 60) high school teacher; 61) professor of political science; 62) theoretical physicist; 63) computer systems analyst; 64) fiction writer; 65) newspaper editor; 66) university professor; 67) military serviceperson; 68) diplomat; 69) venture capitalist; 70) military strategist; 71) logistical planner; 72) city planner; 73) accountant; 74) bank manager; 75) architect; 76) carpenter; 77) manufacturing process engineer; 78) firefighter; 79) marketing brand manager; 80) surgeon; 81) investment manager; 82) stockbroker; 83) director of nonprofit organization; 84) event planner; 85) administrative assistant; 86) credit manager; 87) elected public official; 88) motivational speaker; 89) mayor; 90) community charity president; 91) real estate salesperson; 92) professional athlete; 93) clerical worker; 94) foreign trade negotiator; 95) bookkeeper; 96) emergency medical technician; 97) statistician; 98) mutual fund manager; 99) proofreader; and 100) civil engineer.”
Your Passion Points
When you understand your primary interests and passions, you’ll do better at predicting what types of work environments, activities, lifestyles and people you would prefer. If you are at a professional impasse, consider your passions when planning which new job to pursue. Ten primary personality “archetypes” reveal a great deal about an individual: 1) “the engineer” likes to know how things work; 2) “the numbers cruncher” enjoys analysis; 3) “the professor” needs constant intellectual challenges; 4) “the artist” has to create; 5) “the coach” enjoys mentoring; 6) “the team leader” is comfortable managing people; 7) “the boss” likes to run the show; 8) “the persuader” uses ideas and cause us to lose language to influence others; 9) “the action hero” is a hands-on problem solver; and 10) “the organizer” tries to create order. These categories apply to jobs and life. They target dimensions of personality, passion and meaning. To be happy, to move beyond impasse, let your passions guide you. At a crossroads, listen for that interior voice that reminds you what you truly love. An impasse is a stressful time, but that is when the difficult task of self-assessment returns maximum dividends. If you know who you are and what you like, it is easier to know which direction to go in and what to do.
People, Achievement, Power
To some degree, you can determine what will make you happy by considering where you fall on the spectrum of the three “social motivators”: the need for accomplishment, the need for personal ties or the need for power. All three will apply, though one usually dominates. Are you an “Alpha” type who needs to be in control? Are relationships important? Is accomplishment your key? In short, know thyself. People often hit impasses because they are mismatched on the job or in life.
To understand yourself better and end an impasse, map the insights you have uncovered about your personality. Write a list of categories of life and career concerns. Capture highlights in each area: career and life interests, social motivations, plus the theme of the tensions in your life. List these categories, and then fill in the blanks as they apply so you can really understand the patterns in your life.
Self-knowledge is important to moving beyond an impasse. But you cannot move along if you are afraid to act. In fact, if you do not act, you will simply stay in the same mental quagmire that bedevils you now. The nature of your action depends on the problems that caused your impasse. Maybe, to get “unstuck,” you need to buy the building materials for your delayed construction project. Whatever it is, you must act, but do so intelligently. If you plan to pursue a new career, talk to as many people as you can who work in that field. If you want to move to a new city, travel there first to find out what it is like. Don’t make an uninformed decision. Trust your head and your heart.
Whatever form your personal action takes, it represents movement into unfamiliar territory. Now you can change based on the hard work you have done, the mental exercises you have applied, and the self-assessment you have undergone to learn about yourself and what makes you happy. Often the choice you make will be a hard one. Do not compromise. Be bold and brave. Make the decision that in your heart you know is right. An impasse is a door that you open to enter a brand new life. Open it.