Today does not have to take second place to the possibility of tomorrow: Overcoming “Stuckness”

Will I ever change?

“I’m tired of always struggling with the same stuff. I’ve been working on these issues for over a decade of my life. Will it ever end? If the answer is no, then why even bother to work on it in the first place?”

It was with these pointed, rhetorical questions that a fellow therapist started our conversation the other day. “Oh, friend,” I thought to myself, “If only you knew how many times I have asked myself these very questions regarding my own struggles.” The truth is that these fleeting, nagging doubts occupy my mind more often than not.

  • Will I ever learn how to let go?
  • When will I be able to leave these past mistakes behind and no longer be constrained by them?
  • What will it take for me to give up these old ways of coping that I know without a doubt will not take me where I want to go?
  • At what point in life will I become the person I want to be so I can enjoy my own company when all distractions are gone?
  • When, when, when?…

As a therapist, I make my living helping people change, coaching them into this mysterious process whereby they are morphed into healthier, more satisfied, and fuller versions of themselves. And yet… Here I am confessing that I myself struggle with lack of change in my own life. Isn’t that like a driver who admits to not knowing how to drive or a carpenter who does not quite know how to build things?

Not quite so.

My clients have taught me that struggling with change is an essential part of the human journey. In our own way, we all long for the day when things will change—our circumstances, our loved ones, and especially ourselves. Craving change and feeling stuck is not something that automatically goes away based on one’s occupation, IQ, age, or even—dare I say it—bank account. Stuckness, as I call it, is an equal opportunity foe.

But here is the good news: we don’t have to wait until “it” changes (whatever your “it” may be) before we can start enjoying life or living it purposefully. This is, in fact, one of my utmost goals for both my clients and me—that we all learn how to live fully in the present even when situations outside of their control remain the same. To do otherwise is to neglect the present while waiting for a future that may never be. The mother of the alcoholic teenager can learn to find meaning and to take care of herself even though her son is struggling. The single young adult can pursue his interests and develop a rich life while still longing for a romantic partner to fill that hole in his heart. I can enjoy the close relationships I have now, at this moment, around me, even though I am thousands of miles away from my family and friends in Brazil.

Just to make myself clear: accepting the present does not mean that I quit fighting for a different future. To embrace my stuckness is not the same as settling or giving up.

You see, stuckness is OK. It’s just a feeling. And as with all feelings, it comes and goes. No feeling stays forever. The key to being able to move on and change while feeling stuck is this: learn to embrace the tension between letting yourself feel…while not letting your emotions control you. This requires learning how to live in two places at once. On the one hand, it is good for me to take a close look at my stuckness when it surfaces in my heart: What’s prompting it? What other feelings are connected with it? What is this stuckness telling me I cannot do? How is it trying to limit me? At the same time, while acknowledging the longing for what is not, I must also reconnect with my values and dreams: What kind of person do I want to be today, at this moment? What is important to me now? What values do I want to pursue today for my relationships, my life, and myself?

In the end, our options are really quite simple (though not necessarily easy). We can wait until things change before living the life we want… Or we can learn how to live said life even when we are feeling stuck.

When I become mindful of my present while still staying committed to my priorities, I learn that change happens even when there is no change. We can grow even when feeling stuck. Today does not have to take second place to the possibility of tomorrow. And if you are feeling stuck, I’d advise that you seek professional counseling which can help guide you down a more joyful and fulfilling path.

Written by Joa Braga, LPC-S