Getting Unstuck! 5 Guiding Questions to Point You in the Right Direction

March 29, 2016


What’s an administrative professional to do?

The idea of being stuck means different things to different people. In my travels meeting many administrative professionals at conferences, workshops and training seminars, no two Assistants define what feeling stuck means the same way. It’s personal. We experience it at different times in our careers for different reasons. I have found, however, there is usually a common theme: it feels uncomfortable, emotionally exhausting and often creates unproductive side effects that can manifest in a plethora of ways.

What defines “being stuck” for you? Do any of these ring true for you?

  • Your routine has become mundane.
  • You are working with a challenging manager or executive.
  • You are dealing with stressful family issues that make you feel out of control.
  • You have a lack of desire and motivation for your work.
  • You have no clear career goals.
  • You don’t feel challenged at work, yet don’t feel you have the ability to make a change.
  • You feel trapped. You just “feel” stuck.

One of the number one factors in getting unstuck is the fear we face in dealing with it. It’s just easier to remain in “stuck-ness” (is that a word?) instead of taking action to address the underlying issues. We just don’t know what to do. We talk a lot about feeling stuck and share lots of sticky stories with our family and friends, but we really don’t take sensible action. It’s a conundrum to be sure. One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves at this point is: “Who is working on the problem?”

Next, we don’t take action if we perceive the alternate solution as being “too difficult.” Let’s put difficult in the right perspective. You might consider having a crucial conversation with your boss about your responsibilities or his/her lack of appreciation for your work as very difficult and on some level it might be. However, not addressing the fact that the conversation needs to happen is going to result in a more difficult situation to handle. Just spending time worrying about a problem is not working on it! It requires focus and dedicated attention. It requires pulling out those high-level administrative problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Let’s think of it like a taco salad. You have to dig through the layers of cheese, lettuce, olives and beans to get to the meat! It’s the same with feeling stuck. It requires the taco salad approach! We have to be willing to dig deep and get to the meat of the issue. And that takes a big fork and a firm grasp!

Additionally, it can often be true that we haven’t made a firm commitment to take the action we need. A dear friend once gave me some simple yet profound and true advice when I was dealing with some serious flypaper. She said, “Lisa, you have to decide to decide.” Those three words sunk in and stuck (the right kind of stuck!) and I have never forgotten them. The fear of change can be debilitating. The options appear as unfamiliar territory and we just aren’t willing to take the risk. This initial phase of recognizing our level of being stuck and our commitment to getting unglued requires being consciously competent versus subconsciously incompetent. Which would you rather be?

Self-sabotaging behaviors that keep us stuck

There are no shortcuts to discovering the perfect job, manager or workplace culture – there is just the journey. It requires 3 key elements:

Discipline: Daily documentation and awareness of personal choices.
Candor: Honesty with yourself and others and a willingness to have crucial conversations.
Courage: Commitment to preparing yourself to make tough choices and empowering decisions.

Sometimes, we know what we want to achieve, give up, improve, triumph over or resolve. Walking through the exercise below and perhaps writing your answers below each section, can help identify your roadblocks – and blast through them. (Based on work done by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey from Harvard University.)

Getting unstuck is not so much about effort as it is about moving forward with the natural flow of things. Think about great swimmers like Michael Phelps and Dara Torres. Their success in the pool is often measured in hundredths of an inch or seconds. In a recent Olympic race, Michael Phelps won a race by less than a fingernail’s length! What can we learn from this? It’s not the kick, but the reach that keeps us moving forward. Kicking provides energy and momentum, but just kicking makes the water an obstacle. When the focus is on reaching and stretching, the water then becomes a vehicle to move the swimmer forward. The same principle applies when we feel stuck.

Best practices for getting unstuck:

  • Recognize your accomplishments.
  • Be willing to expand your scope.
  • Keep up with trends in your field.
  • Diplomatically share ideas.
  • Be aware of what you may be avoiding.

**'This article first appeared in Executive Secretary Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any office professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at to find out more about the publication and to get your 30% discount email [email protected] and tell them we sent you.'

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