The anatomy of being stuck

This is the first post in a series of illustrated posts exploring  the ways in which we all, occasionally, get stuck in our lives (professionally, creatively, personally). These posts are based on conversations I've been having on the topic - a lot of them, online and off - and my intent here is to share with you the stories, insights, and advice I've been getting.

Feeling stuck is always uncomfortable, and sometimes it's worse than that. During my own periods of stuckness, I've wrestled with feelings of embarrassment, fear, ineptitude, and even shame. It's a scary, lonely place, and no matter how many times I've managed to break free, I worry each time it happens that this time, it'll be forever; I'll never have another creative idea, or reach the next level in my career as an illustrator and writer.

My hope is that these posts are helpful to people who feel stuck right now. At the very least, I hope they reassure you. On this subject, we all have stories to tell.

You're not  alone.



Here's how I used to think it worked:

You're cruising along in your life, being productive, feeling good, doing all the things.

Then BAM! You suddenly feel stuck. Sometimes it happens as the result of external events, like a breakup, or a shitty boss doing shitty boss things, or you get sick, or you have to care for someone else who is sick (or too young, or too old to care for themselves). Sometimes it happens as the result of an internal crisis, like writer's block, or anxiety, or  depression, or just a vague sense that you were meant for something different. Whatever the cause, you look around, and everything's the same - same trash bins, same pets, same unfolded socks, but now you feel stuck. It's like suddenly finding yourself in a jail cell, where only you can see the bars.

And then, for however long - sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes longer - you just stay there, in jail, feeling purposeless, lazy, and guilty about all the stuff you're not accomplishing. Astonishingly, no one seems to notice, and you wonder why, but you're also relieved because being stuck is so hard to explain. You know this because sometimes you try to explain it, but that rarely works out.

But then one day you have an epiphany! Maybe it's the next scene of your novel-in-progress, or a sudden insistent voice in your head saying, "go back to school," or "get a different job," or "learn a new language." Or maybe you bend down to pet a dog outside the grocery store and you decide, in a sudden flash of evolutionary insight, that what you really want to do is open a restaurant that only serves toast, which has nothing to do with petting dogs, but that's okay because you know that inspiration can come from anywhere, and now that you have it, everything is different. You look around and life is just one big, open field of possibility.

Stuck - Unstuck Possibility

That's how I used to think it worked, but now, after talking to so many people about it, I realize that's just how it has worked for me. When I feel stuck, it's almost always creatively, and then, by extension, professionally, but other people get stuck in other ways (in their relationships, in their weight loss or exercise programs, in their general life trajectories), and they break free in other ways too.

I've heard some great (funny, happy, sad, thorny) stories about being stuck and getting unstuck. I've even heard some stories about the benefits of being stuck. (Those have been particularly enlightening to me.)

I'll be drawing and sharing these stories over the next few months, along with specific suggestions (my own and others') as to how to break free when you're stuck. Plus, I'm creating some seriously fun, seriously short challenges that will leave you feeling very accomplished (and also, with a little luck, a bit less stuck).

If at anytime during this series, you want to tell me your story, send me a note. I truly believe that the more voices there are in this conversation, the better.

Stuck - Unstuck Conversation