Productivity: Escaping the Land of Stuck, Part 2: Sailing the Sea of Change

Kel Weinhold

We are back for Round Two of How to Escape the Land Of Stuck.

Setting off on the Sea of Change.

We’ll start the same way we did last week: Grab a piece of paper and explore these questions: What happened? Why did I get stuck in this spot? 

It bears repeating: This is not the opportunity to pick up a club and beat yourself in the head for being in this spot. It is NOT an opportunity for more negative self talk. Instead, try to approach the question with genuine curiosity. “Why did I stop here?  Why did I fall off the path right at this location?” 

An important aside: Roxanne Donovan from Well Academic makes the point that most people do not “get off course.” They get pushed off course by the forces of racism or misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia or the intersections of more than one of those forces. Which is yet another reminder that you are not the problem, but the system you are working in certainly can be.

Humans do not like change. And academics are perhaps one of the most risk averse subset of the species. Why else would we choose a career that involves mostly words and experiments that we get to noodle over mostly alone. Not to mention a career that, if we get tenure, means we can get in a track and stay in it!

It makes sense then that when we have to move from A to B, we often freeze in place. After all, A is familiar and we don’t know what B is going to be like and that not knowing is yucky. 

So, if you find yourself answering the “Why did I get stuck?” question with something akin to “I have done a lot but I am afraid I don’t have enough.” It’s probably time to start exploring your fear. (That thing is keeping you from crossing the sea and getting on with it.)

When I work with clients individually who are struggling to move to the next step, I shift the question from last week’s “And?” to “Why?”

You: I read all these things, but I am not sure I am ready to write it up.
Me: Why?
You: I might need to read some more.
Me: Why? 
You: Because I might have missed something?

Now for a little reality check:

Me: How will you know when you have enough?
You: I’m not sure.
Me: Why?
You: Because I don’t know what they want?
Me: Why?
You: I mean. I think I know what they want, but I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong.

And there it is: FEAR 

Here’s the thing: Fear tells our reptilian brain that crossing the distance between A and B will end with us being dragged to the bottom of the ocean, which makes getting on that sea and paddling away nearly impossible.

With that said, the goal is not to eliminate fear. It is to learn to sail with it. Make it a passenger. Nod in its direction. “Yeah. I see you. But, I really want to get to the next thing so I am going to have to ask you to sit down.”

You can also turn down the volume on fear by returning to our old friend “And?”

You: What is the worst thing that can happen if I get it wrong?
Your Fear: I will get rejected.
You: And?
Your Fear: I’ll be embarrassed.
You: And?
Your Fear: It sucks.
You: Yep. And?

Whatever the answer is, I can guarantee you, it is not as bad as your brain has understood it to be, and by naming and engaging your fear, you can weather the storm of emotions it stirs up and get set sail from the Land of Stuck.

Next week:  Climbing out of the Quagmire of Failure

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