Last time I covered why people get stuck and offered a few examples to illustrate the point. In this post I'll be digging into how to become unstuck, and what that process looks like.
Step 1 - Identify Conflicting Goals
What is so tricky about being stuck is that we are often unaware of the goals that are driving our decisions. The first step to becoming unstuck then is to determine what implicit goals we've been working towards, and which ones are in conflict.
The best way to go about this is to ask yourself why you're doing what you're doing, and why you're feeling what you're feeling. If you feel stuck at your job, why are you staying if you don't like it? It could be because you love the security it provides, or the money it provides to pay for the big house or nice car or vacations that you take. Whatever the answer, that is the goal that's keeping you there. What is the reason behind your desire to leave your job? That answer is the goal that can only be fulfilled by you leaving.
Step 2 - Goal Disengagement
The next step is to willfully and actively choose to disengage from one of the conflicting goals, in order to be free to pursue the other one.
This process is less about quitting a particular job or endeavor, but rather quitting the goal that the job or endeavor was fulfilling. Seeing the world through the lens of goal disengagement is incredibly empowering, because it moves us away from the guilt often associated with quitting ("I just couldn't cut it" or "I wasn't able to push through until the end"), and we can instead deal on the level of goals ("It was no longer a goal of mine to ...").
There is no "right" goal to disengage from
Can someone really disengage from the goal of making themselves happy? I believe they can, in fact many people in the workforce find themselves in this very position. Think of the person who cleans your house, or cleans your workplace. They might not be fulfilling their goal to find career satisfaction, but they likely have other goals that keep them working, such as a goal of providing for their family, being a loving husband or wife, or father or mother.
Becoming unstuck isn't about what decision you make, but about actually making a decision to disengage from one of the conflicting goals.
My story of becoming unstuck
On the day of my fourth anniversary of working at Microsoft, a new goal appeared in my life. Until that moment I was happy with the work I was doing and felt like I was on a good path. All of a sudden however I found myself unsatisfied and wanting more out of the time I was spending at work. This led me to struggle with being stuck for three years before I was finally able to move forward.
Looking back on my process through the lens of goals, I now understand that what happened was that a new goal emerged for me, which was to feel fulfillment and purpose in the work I was doing. I wanted to feel like the work I was doing was something I was gifted at, and drew upon something deep inside that was unique to who I was. This wasn't a goal that could be filled in the career path I was on.
Why didn't I quit? It turns out that I had another goal, one that was actually much stronger: financial security. I felt stuck because my goal to find fulfillment in my work was in conflict with my goal to have predictability and financial security, and for three years, the financial security goal won. I remember several times almost quitting Microsoft to try other opportunities, but each time couldn't pull the trigger because I was too afraid to give up the financial security that I had.
I see now that it was my mother's passing and coming face to face with how short life really is, that finally let me disengage from the financial security goal, and be able to pursue my goal to find fulfilling work.
What is your story?
The stories I've come across of conflicting goals that cause people to be stuck are incredibly varied. If you feel stuck in your career, then it's time to start looking into what your career goals are, because it is likely that you have two goals that are conflicting. Finding those conflicting goals will be a huge step forward, as now you'll know exactly what the problem is.
The step after that is incredibly difficult however, because for many it becomes about discovering what career or job path would lead to the meaningful work they are hoping for. This is where a career coach can be of immense value, in helping you first identify the conflicting goals that are in place, and then helping you get clarity around who you are and what you want in a career.
Clarity allows you the confidence to disengage from a conflicting goal, and pour your energy into moving forward with the other.