I talk to a lot of teens that feel stuck. I talk to more than twice as many parents who also feel stuck in whatever situation they are in. Maybe for the teen, it is the feeling that their worst class will never end, that they will never get out of their parents house or that the reputation they have at school will never go away. For the parents, perhaps it’s that their teen will never get it, that they cannot see an end to the drama/complaining/poor decision making.
In both of these instances, the people involved feel stuck. The sense is that they don’t know how to get away from the hurt, pain or discomfort they feel. Most of the time, they want to remove the pain completely or move away from it themselves.
This is a normal human reaction. Both to experience a feeling of being stuck and a desire to remove that feeling. If you Google “how to get unstuck,” you can find a lot of answers (and some really good ones I might add). Answers like meditation, sleep, refocusing, getting outside, etc to get unstuck. I even read about “5 Steps to Get Unstuck” on the Huffington Post and “16 Ways to Get Unstuck” on Tiny Budda just this week. Both offered some great ideas that could be very effective. But I think these and many others “get unstuck” offerings miss one way that can help many of us stuck in the muck.
Consider these times when you might find yourself stuck:
- You are dealing with a family member who isn’t responding to the help you are offering. You know exactly what help they need, but they are unwilling or unable to accept it.
- Your teen has been dealing with a substance use issue for 3 years and are “stuck” in a cycle that makes your head spin. If only they would listen to you, they could get free.
- The arguments with your spouse or loved one feel like they repeat every 48 hours. You are sick of being stuck dealing with them and know if you could find a way out, you wouldn’t have to deal with this any more.
I want to offer you an alternative solution.
What if the answer to getting unstuck involved going through the pain, not only getting rid of it? What if you chose to face the difficulty head-on, opening your mind to the idea that maybe the reason you are still here is because you haven’t yet learned all you can from the situation?
I listened to a podcast from Entreleadership with Jesse Itzier who started NetJets.com and is owner of the Atlanta Hawks. In many peoples minds, Itzier is not someone who gets “stuck.” Or maybe people just think that if they were in his shoes, there is no way they could feel stuck. But Jesse Itzier has recently released Living with a Seal, a book that’s all about getting unstuck from a successful routine! He tells the story of how he met a Navy Seal who ran a 24 hour race, and by the time he finished, every small bone in his feet was broken, and he was in kidney failure. Itzeir was so impressed, he said that he needed to learn the mental toughness this guy had.
Here is what I am suggesting: maybe instead of trying to remove or run away from the pain every time we experience a little discomfort (I’m not suggesting hurting yourself on purpose of course), we could instead decide to push through the pain.
For many of us, the times we have grown the most are the times we pushed ourselves through something we didn’t think was possible – climbing a mountain, running a Marathon, bungee jumping. I am simply wondering if the same can be true when we feel stuck. I think there are times that the answer is, “Hang in there because when you get through this, you will realize that you can face much more than you ever thought possible.”
Why do we stay stuck?
Have you asked yourself this question? What if the answer is because we haven’t experienced something hard enough yet?
When it comes to making a decision, many people would rather not. There is always inherent risk when it comes to choosing a path, no matter how grandiose or miniscule. You could easily choose the wrong path, then potentially face ridicule from the 20/20 vision of future observers.
I am a reluctant decision maker. Usually, I am the one called upon to choose where the group eats or to choose the focus or direction of a conversation within a new group. I likely appear comfortable with the task, but inside I can be riddled with doubt and anxiety. Usually I’ll make the choice because no one else will. But it would be untrue to say that I am the one who wants to decide because I always think I’ll make the right choice.
Yet, to grow and lead in this world, we have to find a way to make choices and to make those choices good ones. I come from a faith background that talks a lot about finding God’s will for our lives. You hear about “waiting for God to speak” and trying to discern what God is desiring for one’s life choices. Often you will find this language peppered throughout sermons and private prayer lives – hoping God will rescue us from having to make the tough choices.
You see it in the second guessing of people who do have to make hard choices. I think this is why politicians are so maligned. While I’m not saying they are always virtuous or faultless in how they make choices, they have to make hard decisions on law, budgets, and policy. It is their job to choose a direction and stick with it, no matter the criticism or shift in public opinion.
Most of the criticism for those who make hard decisions comes from those who do not have to make those choices. There is an entire cottage industry of political pundits and newspaper columnists who exist solely to critique or criticize decisions other people make, without really having to make any of their own (at least of equal consequence).
Stack that on top of the advent of social media where everyone can say anything about anyone, anytime and you find a recipe for a populous who has very little vested stake in any kind of meaningful decision making.
I think we learn how to make decisions and hard choices earlier in life than we realize. If you were raised in a house where there were very few consequences, or overly harsh consequences for your choices and actions, likely you could struggle making hard choices. Or if the opportunity to fail was taken from you and all you have ever known is success, then you could struggle to make decisions as well.
Deciders will inevitably make the wrong choice. But someone who is adept at making these choices is willing to live with the consequences of making the wrong choice. They take ownership in the process and know they made the best possible decision with the information available.
Friends, we have to help teenagers make choices and informed decisions. And, I think this is where we start. So often we want teenagers to make “good” or “better” choices, but often they aren’t making many choices to begin with. I understand the logic behind the idea of “not making a choice – that is a choice,” but I’m speaking of proactive, informed, and future-thinking choices.
I’d encourage you, as you work with teenagers, to consider these things to help:
- Start with the small stuff. We don’t get the big, important choices right until we can practice with the small stuff. Encourage students to engage in decision making throughout their day in a way that they can point back to.
- Encourage them to choose one “hard” decision a day. Something like eating salad instead of a burger, or choosing to exercise instead of watch TV. Learning to make the harder, but better choice builds up the confidence to make the right choices in the long run.
- Finally, help them take ownership of their choices. So if things unravel and blow up after a decision, they can look you in the eye and tell you why they did it, why it failed, and what they plan to do in the future that might be different. Failure is not a bad thing. Failure is something to learn from, but you have to take ownership to begin with.
Imagine a world where teenagers started making good choices based upon good information, support from their parents and peers, and with ownership of their failures and successes. I believe we would see a drop in crime, drug use, and and increase in community, church engagement and school involvement. And, I think we can agree we would all like to see these things!
What do you think about this? Do you have other ideas for how to help teenagers make good choice?
Here at Teen Lifeline we wanted to take a moment to let you know how things have gone this past year and that we are excited about the upcoming opportunities 2013 holds. We are extremely grateful for the support we have received in many ways. Through donations both financial and in-kind, volunteer hours, services offered, resources shared, and more we have been blessed and been empowered to bless the lives of more teenagers this year than ever before!
Though some of you got a letter informing you of what this year has held for Teen Lifeline, I wanted to recap a few things and put them on our blog to make it easy for you to share.