Getting Unstuck

I’m in the business of giving advice; if you’re reading this, you know that.  I’m often asked for advice at networking events, social events and by appointment; from strangers, old friends and new acquaintances.  I love being asked; most people do.  It makes me feel useful and occasionally, it helps people achieve their goals – which also makes me feel good.

Once in a great while, I’ll run into someone who asks for advice, but then rejects every offering. “I tried that once; it didn’t work.”  “I can’t do that; I have no (insert resource here.)”  “I don’t know how to (find, do, spell; insert another verb here) that.”  When I come across these people, their responses are usually immediate and firm.  I get the impression that I have not been helpful, and I certainly don’t feel good.  Worse, I sometimes hear that other advisors, who I know to be smart and helpful, “were no help at all to me.”  I’d hate to think that someone was saying that about me.

Here’s my advice if you find yourself stuck, despite getting advice from good sources.  If you hear yourself using any of the phrases above, stop and reconsider how to better receive or make use of the advice.

If you think you’ve tried it before, think about whether you’ve done it well.  Chances are, you may not be executing as well as you think – especially if you’ve tried something only once.  Networking is a great example.  When I suggested once that a jobseeker call an industry leader to request a meeting, the jobseeker said “I tried that; no one returns my calls.” Here’s a better response: “What is the best way you’ve found for getting people to return your calls?” The first response just rejects the idea; the second explores it by asking for more information. At the very least, you’ll sound like you’re more open to learning something; at the best, you may actually learn something.

This positive, inquisitive (we can call it ‘posiquisitive’) response technique can help you get unstuck in other ways, too.  Instead of saying, “I don’t have the money to (do what you’re suggesting)” try, “I love that idea – how can I do that on a tight budget?”  Just restating the issue in a positive way will open you up to new possibilities.  Once you’ve said “I can’t,” you probably can’t.   If you really want something enough, you can find a creative way to do it.  If money for transportation is the problem, you can trade services for rides, offer to offset the cost of gas and share a ride with someone, or become a virtual volunteer (work from home.)

If you’ve tried something once, you really haven’t tried it at all.  After one try at anything, you don’t have any data points on your success – even if you succeeded. (You might need to read that sentence again; I’ll wait.)  It’s only by trying again and again that you learn what works and what doesn’t – and why.  Scientists don’t believe what they achieve in an experiment until they can replicate it reliably over and over.  That’s why even your success doesn’t count.  You won’t know how to do it well (whatever “it” is) until you can do it over and over again under many different conditions. 

Success has been defined as ‘getting up one more time than you were knocked down.’ (Yes, it can be that simple.)  Persistence is as important as talent in most endeavors. Thomas Edison may have said it best: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  Next time you’re feeling stuck, keep that in mind.

1 thought on “Getting Unstuck

  1. JoAnn

    OMG, I am not proud to admit I recognize myself in some of these responses. Thank you for putting a spotlight on this negative behavior. Your suggested responses were perceptive. I truly appreciate your insight.


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