There's a big difference between being trapped and being stuck. When you are trapped, you are in quicksand: When you struggle to get free, you seem to sink further into the mire. Being stuck, on the other hand, is more like getting caught in mud. You might be there for a bit, but with a little creativity, effort and patience, you'll soon be back on firm ground, chasing after gazelles or some such thing -- I'm pretty sure the analogy breaks down somewhere in there, but you get the idea.
This distinction occurred to me the other morning when a friend called to tell me that he was trapped in his job. He was feeling it from his boss, and didn't know if he could take it anymore. "Why don't you get a new job?" I offered -- brilliant, out-of-the box thinking like that comes from years of extensive training and practice -- do not try this at home. So my friend, let's call him Edgar, because, why not? My friend Edgar said that he has a very specific skill set and that landing a new job in his field in this economy will be impossible, "I'm trapped," he said.
When you are under pressure, either from a job, family, or friends or managing all of these at the same time, it is easy to feel trapped. During times of negative stress, we all gravitate towards doing what is, at least theoretically, most efficient. We conserve our resources, narrow our efforts and spend our limited energy on doing only what we have to. This usually means that we don't take as good care of ourselves as we should, and tend to neglect activities that keep us strong and flexible. Healthy eating habits, exercise, creative action and hygiene are abandoned faster than a Blockbuster Video store or a Friendster profile. It is our narrow focus on just doing the minimum that leads to a shorter horizon and promotes the sense that we are trapped.
So how do you avoiding falling into the trap of feeling trapped?
First, you have to reframe your situation. You are not trapped in your job, just stuck in it. Say it loud: "I am not trapped, just stuck." Come on people, let's do that again, with some oomph and panache: "I am not trapped, just stuck." Better, but still, what's the word? Um, that's right, lame. Let's say it one more time, all together now. Even you, in the back, with the ascot: "I am not trapped, just stuck."
Next, take one action. Do one thing, just one thing to begin to get unstuck. Taking just one step towards a better job will remind you that you are not serving a life sentence, just in county lockup for the night. What kind of action should you take? Call one contact, reach out to a recruiter, text an old co-worker or email your former boss -- yes, that one -- don't worry, I'm sure he's forgotten all about it by now.
Third, commit to doing one thing to keep you out of the mud tomorrow. Write down what you are going to do. Not on the computer, but on an old fashioned piece of paper, if they still make those where you work. Put the paper someplace that you won't forget to notice it -- tape it to your bathroom window, your steering wheel, or your husband's mustache, just make sure you see it tomorrow and then act on it.
Repeat steps two and three each day until you have climbed out of your job and into a better and more fulfilling situation.
Taking these simple steps will get you past your inertia and will remind you of your capacity to effect change in your world. Once you have momentum it's just a matter of time until you are really moving and you'll soon realize that the mud and quicksand are just in your mind. And if they are not really there, they can't possibly hold you back.
Follow Ben Michaelis, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drbenmichaelis