Do you ever feel stuck? I’m pretty sure we all do at some point. Feeling stuck is like feeling afraid: it happens to everyone, but not everyone gets past it. You win by getting unstuck, not by skipping the process entirely.
When you feel stuck, asking why is often helpful. But just asking “Why am I stuck?” doesn’t always work, because feeling stuck can be more of a general sensation than a specific ailment.
So here are a few other questions that might help you figure things out. Ask them to yourself and see what your self has to say.
1. What do I know to be true?
Ask yourself what you believe beyond any doubt or skepticism. It might be a short list of five items, or it might fill several pages in a journal. Whatever it is, it’s your truth.
Your truth could be different from other people’s. In fact, it probably will be. To understand this, think about a major world problem: climate change, a refugee crisis, lack of clean water, girls’ education. Which of these do you think is the most important to address?
If you ask five people, you might get five different answers. But are any of them wrong? Not really—they are just each person’s truth.
2. What are my guiding values?
When answering this question, be sure to be specific and exclusive. Choosing values is all about prioritization. Approximately every company in the world has “excellence” as one of their core values, but what does that even mean? It’s like telling the genie your wish is to have unlimited wishes. Nice try, but he’s heard that one before.
When you only choose two or three values, you have to make hard choices. Is it more important to be curious or brave? Is it better to be generous or kind? The differences are subtle, yet significant. And just like the truth question, your answers will differ from other people’s. That’s the whole point—by understanding your values, it will be easier to make decisions.
3. If I had one year left to live, how would I spend it?
Sometimes people ask, “If I only had 24 hours left…” but I’m not sure that’s as interesting as thinking about a year. With 24 hours, your options are pretty limited. Hedonism, making amends, skydiving, taking up smoking, last-minute charity—all of those things are possible, but you can’t build anything.
So if you have a whole year left, you can do all the things on the 24-hour list, but then you have 364 more days. So what will it be?
4. Since I don’t know how much time I have left, what should I do?
Odds are, you have more than one remaining journey around the sun, and hopefully many more. But you don’t know! Life can be taken from us without warning. Or you could live to be 115.
Given the uncertainty and lack of a reliable countdown clock, what changes should you make? What dreams remain unfulfilled? What troubles you?
5. Do I have any regrets?
Like fear, or being stuck in general, it’s better to face regret head-on instead of letting it linger in our subconscious. If there’s something you wish you’d done differently, or just something you wish you’d done at all, well… is it too late?
If it’s not too late, maybe it’s time for you to do some work.
If it is too late, consider how you can avoid those situations in the future. And finally, grant yourself grace. We can’t change the past, and there are some things that can’t be fixed. Live for today and build for tomorrow.
6. How am I helping people?
The great Dr. King said it best: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
When you feel stuck, remember the persistent question. Thinking about other people can help you just as much as anyone else.
If you don’t have a good answer, go back about the truth question. Of all the problems in the world—I just listed a few, there are many more—which ones bother you the most? What can you do to help find a solution, or at least make life just a little better?
If that sounds too grandiose, well, look around. Who do you see that you can help in some way?
7. What is something I MUST do, no matter how difficult it is?
Warning: an honest answer to this question might change your life.
In my case, answering this question is what led me to visit every country in the world. More than any other reason—my love of travel, goal-setting, compulsive personality, “it just seemed fun”—once I realized that the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, it turned into that must do challenge that I simply had to take on.
Is there anything like that in your life? If you’re ignoring it, or telling yourself you’ll get back to it “when I have time,” that might be exactly why you’re feeling stuck.
Oh, and if your answer seems irrational, or if it’s just not something that everyone around you understands, you might really be on to something.
Chris Guillebeau is the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people. His new book, Born for This, will help you find the work you were meant to do. Connect with Chris on Twitter, on his blog, or at your choice of worldwide airline lounge.
Image courtesy of Francesco Paggiaro.