What to do When You Feel Stuck in Life With No Way Out

by Alexander Heyne · 162 comments

It’s easy to get stuck in life.

In fact, for most of us, it just happens. One day we just realize it.

We get that nagging feeling that “doing this, here, was not what I was meant to be doing.”  We get that nagging feeling that there’s somewhere else we should be. We dream of escaping constantly.

Life has a little bit less zing to it. Happy things don’t get us quite as happy, and sad things – wait, life is sad, we tell ourselves – so we suck it up.

We start telling our friends who are having hard times “Welcome to life. Anything you want has to be attained through struggle and warfare with life.”

“Dreams? Who can afford them.”

“At least I’m paying my bills and I have a place to live.”

“Ehh that’s only possible for a select few people.”

For most of us, we hit that “stuck/fucked” spot right when we get the first secure job. It pays us good enough so that we don’t worry, we get a good enough apartment, then a good enough spouse, then a good enough marriage. And then life is “Eh, good enough” for the rest of our lives.

Fuck good enough.

5 Ways to Tell if You’re Stuck

#1 You have less energy and couldn’t care less about anything

The most overwhelming and obvious sign is low energy and a general inability to get motivated.  Everything seems like a struggle.

You know you need to make friends but you don’t want to put in the effort.

You know you need to lose weight but you don’t want to go to the gym.

You want to learn how to cook but just can’t be bothered to.

And that basically is the essence – you just don’t care anymore. 

Everything is too much effort for you, nothing seems to get you super aroused and happy (Usually the only thing that does that is when the person gets a spouse/falls in love, etc. Which is basically their only anchor into sanity).

Underlying the signs and symptoms of depression, dullness, hollowness, don’t-give-a-fuck-ness, there is a serious lack of motivation to do anything.

#2 Everything seems impossible (even small stuff)

When you get stuck, everything is a struggle. Even if you’re off at five, and you usually play video games till midnight, you still complain about going to the gym and lack of time even though you’re getting fatter and fatter.

When you don’t have enough money for something (a vacation, an engagement ring, a new toy, a new car, etc.) you don’t have the mental energy to figure out how to earn it and pay for it. You just complain, you whine about how difficult life is and how you just wish you were earning more money.

This lack of energy and zest is closely tied in with #3

#3 You rationalize mediocre circumstances as being “just the way it is”

What does lack of energy + everything seeming impossible = ?

A chronic cynic.

“This is just the way life is.”

They become a person who has no concept outside of the brutal “realities” of life. Outside of the normal paradigm for most: suffering in a job, deadly commutes, boring leisure time, jack-shit on the weekend, and an average spouse.

When your car breaks down, you lose your job, and your wife divorces you  – all on the same day – these kind of people say stuff like “That’s life.”  It’s like their emotional intelligence has vaporized into thin air.

They are far beyond entertaining silly stuff like “dreams,” “passions,” and other stuff.  Sometimes they entertain the idea of making a big life change like moving abroad, traveling long-term, or quitting their job – but they almost never follow through.

They’ve given up.

#4 Your intuition isn’t working (you don’t feel anything)

Another symptom that you feel stuck is that you’re emotionally semi-dead.

When you ask people like this what they would rather be doing, or where they’d rather be, they just say “Anywhere but here.”

It’s like you’ve numbed yourself to reality to try and cope with it better – higher lows, and lower highs, but more consistency you tell yourself.

But here’s the problem when you’re no longer connecting with your intuition – you end up doing stupid stuff because you think you should, and not because of how it makes you feel. Like trying to increase your earning potential in a job you already hate.

#5 You get pissed off over the smallest, most inconsequential things

To me, this has always been a symptom of being stuck, or feeling trapped in the rat race. You just have to vent. You have to get that angry bitter shit out of you, so you start cursing at drivers in traffic, calling the lady in line at Walgreens a bitch, and throwing mini tantrums whenever possible.

Ever met someone who complains about traffic, kicking over the dog bowl, the new co worker, spilling their coffee, being out of shape, the dog shitting on the rug, some rude person in the coffee line, the weather, etc. etc. every day?

Complaining is the most exciting part of their day – and it’s just about the only attention they get.

There’s one thing about getting stuck though – it’s easy and will happen naturally unless you invest time into not getting stuck.

How to Get Un-Stuck

There’s one important characteristics of getting stuck.

It’s all in your head.

Ever heard stories of kids who are way bigger than their dads but are still getting beaten and abused by them?

Heard stories of genius ghetto kids that stay stuck achieving nothing because their mom called them “lousy pieces of shit that will go nowhere” ?

Know someone who has been bullied their entire lives, and still, as a grown man, won’t stand up for anything?

It’s because our minds have been trained to behave certain ways and believe certain things.

It’s like your momma always said “Stop calling your brother an idiot! Or else one day he’ll think he is one!”

And it’s kinda like that saying “If you think you can and if you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Getting unstuck is all about getting your head right.

#1 Decide you want to be writing a better story

It amazes me how many people love wallowing in their own misery. I’ve spoken with friends deep in the rat race about moving abroad for a year.

I always tell them it’s a great way to jumpstart your motivation and get some energy back.

More than one has given me the “Ehhh that sounds like a lot of work, I have an apartment, car, job… mumble…mumble…” response.

In other words, fear. Laziness. Mental laziness more than anything.

Are you honestly willing to put in the effort?  The idea of suffering and slowly dying in a life you hate has got to be worse than the pain of busting your ass to fix it.

#2 Move across the world (seriously)

Some people need a real kick in the groin to get started. And some people need a massive change of scenery, a massive transitional period, to help get them motivated again and excited about life. Scary but true.

Although I’ve previously said that quitting your job to travel won’t solve shit (regarding personal/life issues), there are fewer things that can jumpstart people’s motivation and happiness more.

When I got my first real full-time job in 2009 I had a pretty sweet gig. I worked 8:30-2:30. I made 50k a year. There was almost no commute. It was little to no stress. I knew my stuff well.

But after 9 months I felt painfully stuck and limited. Life was beginning to suck, and everyday was the same. old. routine. My friends all became boring old bastards and there wasn’t anything to talk about but gossip and bullshit.

So I made a logical decision. I moved to China! 

So it wasn’t that logical. But it wasn’t scary at all. Scary to me was sitting at a goddamn desk forever. That terrified the shit out of me, so I dropped everything and left.

The main reasons I suggest moving abroad somewhere cool are as follows:

  1. You will have the most fun you’ve ever had, meeting new people, learning a language or culture, eating new food, and traveling to new places
  2. You will no longer be stuck in a rut or daily schedule. There will be a massive amount of new information to process and new stuff to check out
  3.  It will bring you back to life — that hollow apathetic feeling about life will vaporize as soon as you step off the plane on your new adventure. Suddenly you’ll feel things again – fear, excitement, anxiety. You’ll be alive again
  4. It will jumpstart your motivation and revive your zest for life
Many travelers I’ve met either went abroad long-term because A) They’re job sucked or they couldn’t find one, or B) They just got out of a long-term relationship and needed to get out.
I honestly recommend dropping everything and going – if you’re stuck, sick and tired of everything, and want an adventure.
And no, it’s not irresponsible. No it’s not terrifying.  If you’re in a mediocre life with a mediocre job and a mediocre boyfriend/girlfriend and you’re tired of all of them, what is there to lose? You’ve already lost.
Right now also happens to be a hot time to teach English just about anywhere in the world. Many of us will also make better salaries teaching English abroad than our salaries at home even working in business or marketing companies.

If teaching over in Asia interests you there are a couple ways to find jobs:

  1. Check out the resources on Dave’s ESL Cafe. 
  2. If you’re interested in teaching in Beijing, go to Thebeijinger.com and post an ad in the Job/English teaching forum. You’ll have 15 emails in 24 hours.
  3. Japan also has a highly competitive (and highly compensated for) English teaching program called JET

#3 Downsize and kill yo debt (get un-trapped by your stuff)

Another trap that many of us put ourselves in is the following scenario:

Girl gets good job. Girl gets cool apartment. Girl has nothing to do with life since money made is in excess of monthly expenses. Girl gets bored. Girl has no hobbies.

Girl starts buying stuff (Furniture, clothes, new car). House is filled with stuff. Girl continues to work because of the credit card bills she has to pay off from her stuff. Girl is stuck.

Girl gets unhappy and want to quit job and move. Girl can’t quit job because girl owes lots of money.

There’s one thing that bothers me about young people.  The young people who fake having money.

I’ve know a guy who people assume is making “mad money” because he has a house and drives a Mercedes and he’s not 30.

Guess what – there are a lot of poor ghetto people who like looking rich too, and they drive a mercedes all while making 30k a year.

My friend the bartender can buy a new car too, but he’ll be paying it off for the next 5 years too.

It’s pretty ironic because these people give the illusion of financial freedom – more money than they need – but they’re actually way more stuck than most of us non-mercedes driving people.

What a lot of my friends call “responsibilities” are actually dumbass financial decisions where they put themselves into debt willingly.

Unless you have some life and death illness, getting rid of debt should be your #1 priority for anyone that plans on being un-stuck.

Which brings us to the last one —

#4 Understand the rat race

As soon as you get your first job you get a nice little slap in the face lesson about the rat race.

You’re stuck in the rat race when you barely make enough to get by.

It’s not really surprising that 20 somethings are obsessed with money and success, because most of us have a severe lack of money and success.

Making $25k a year and then paying for gas, a $700/month apartment, a food leaves just about $2.50 left in your checking account. That’s to buy the bullet and rent the gun.

So for the next 10 or 20 or 40 years we dutifully work our way up to a little more financial security, or in our heads that’s what we tell ourselves. But we get so stuck in paying bills mode we don’t even sit back for two seconds to think of what we really want to do.

You end up like a bunch of my friends who take the highest paying job, every time, and take certifications to increase their earning potential at jobs they already hate.

You’re also stuck when you don’t listen to #3 and your purchasing stuff and incurring debt for things like a new car or house. You’re screwing yourself (if it’s freedom you crave) because you just locked yourself into a situation where you have to be paying bills consistently to get rid of the debt.

So how do you get out?

Often, people work long hard hours at jobs they hate to earn money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”

- Nigel Marsh

Getting out of the rat race basically gives you a few options. #1 Is to earn more. If you earn 50k and only spend 25k, you’ve got some leeway.

The other thing is to downsize. When I moved to China I was still making 50k, but I was making that in a 2nd world country where the standard of living meant I could pay $300 /month for a nice apartment in a university area of Beijing.

Plenty of pro athletes or famous actors end up broke because even though they make millions of dollars they’re also partying like a celebrity. Wayne Newton, Mike Tyson, Michael Vick, Evander Holyfield and many many other extremely wealthy people went broke due to moronic money allocation.

So you either earn more than you need or you downsize.

Or you create a lifestyle that permits you to spend your time how you want now. That’s kind of the point of a lifestyle business that I talk about lot, so I won’t go into a lot of detail (check out Corbett Barr’s post on Lifestyle Biz Vs. Startup).

The point is clear though: Don’t get stuck.

A generation of stuck and lost adults

The other day, someone I know was talking about her son. She told me she was starting to see him get stuck, she was starting to see less brightness in his eyes, he was looking sleepy – not physically – but sort of that soul weariness that comes from psychologically bearing some burden you don’t want to.

“I just want to shake him and say wake the fuck up! Life has so much out there for you,” she told me.

Getting stuck is easy.

It happens without you realizing it, until one day you wake up and say “how the hell did It ever end up like this… this is not where I envisioned myself. This is not the life I wanted…”

So just remember: once you’re stuck, it gets insanely hard to wake up and find that fire again unless something or someone wakes you up from the dream. For many of us, that never happens.


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