How Can You Generate Options When You Feel Stuck?

Back in the comments for What’s the Difference Between Problem Whining and Problem Solving?, I mentioned we sometimes feel as if we have no choices, no good options. We need to release our preferred option from consideration—at least for now, but probably forever.

I find that releasing an option quite difficult, especially if I’m attached to the process, not the outcome.

Sometimes, I am attached to the outcome, and the outcome is no longer within reach. I need to generate other options. For me, this is particularly true with losses. After my inner ear hemorrhage, I realized I could never “return” to my previous life. I had a strict demarcation of before and after. I did not have the same options as before.

I’ll use a professional example for generating options in this post.

I have been quite fortunate in my career. I’ve been a developer, project manager, tester, program manager, director. I was ready to become a senior manager. I had a big problem. Despite interviewing for a senior management role, I didn’t get any offers.

Some companies didn’t have the right culture for me. Sometimes, I wanted a different culture than they did. But the big problem was this: I was too young and female to get the promotion I wanted and deserved. The other senior managers didn’t feel comfortable imagining how they would work with me, day in and day out. These people couldn’t see themselves working with me.

I went meta—thinking about the problem of the problem, not the problem itself. The original problem: how to get that next promotion when no one could see me as a senior manager? The meta problem was this: How could I work with organizations to create better results for the teams, projects, and companies?

Notice my reframe: instead of thinking about the promotion per se; it was about how I could work in the organization. I focused on the effect of my work.

Now, I had more options. I went from thinking the problem was the process of finding a new job to an outcome—how could I create a new role for myself?

Once you solve the first problem, you might have other problems to solve. I certainly did. If I became a consultant, how would we manage our health care? How would I create some form of steady income? How would people learn about me so I could get clients?

I solved those problems—and I’ve adapted my solutions as necessary for these and other problems—and I’ve been happy as a consultant for almost 24 years.

When we think about why the problem is a problem, we often discover we have more options—options we have not yet considered. Some of those options don’t work for various reasons. That’s why, even when I go meta, I use the Rule of Three to continue developing more options for myself.

The problem might not be the problem. Yes, I have a vertigo problem which prevents me from being physically safe in many situations. That is definitely a problem. Yet, I can’t fix that problem. I can only adapt to it. If I go meta, I can consider other options that allow me to be safe and enjoy what’s going on.

The problem might be how we react to the problem.

When we go meta, and consider the problem about the problem, we might free ourselves to create more options, more choices. I find I am more adaptable when I consider going meta.

That is the question this week: How can you generate problems when you feel stuck?

4 thoughts on “How Can You Generate Options When You Feel Stuck?

  1. sascha

    Dear Johanna, thank you so much for your thoughts. I just had some kind of epiphany :-) (although, it’s rather trivial). Sometimes when I get stuck with a problem or a process, people try to give me advice. They try to generate options *for* me. And this almost never works. I think it’s due to my *personal* attachement to the process – I have to find my own options. (It’s actually how coaching should work, but of course, not everybody in my personal network is a coach and so they do what they think is helpfull.) So the clue for me here is: If your personally attached to the process you need to generate problems / options *by yourself*.

    1. johanna Post author

      Sascha, you have nicely defined the “inflicting help” problem. Well-meaning people want to help you solve this problem. That’s very nice of them. And, as you noted, the process of generating other options for yourself might help you release your attachment to the process. That’s what going meta might buy you.

      I can use other people for sounding boards. I often can’t use them to help me solve my problem until I realize I need to go meta. Glad you had an epiphany!

  2. Jim Grey

    I think the best guidance here for me is: when I feel stuck, look for the preferred solution I’m clinging to — and let it go. I can see two separate areas where I’m clinging to a preferred solution. I can also see that I need to experience the feelings of loss that will come with letting go of those preferred solutions.

    1. johanna Post author

      Ah yes, the feeling of loss. I didn’t dwell on that in this post. Maybe that’s another post in this little series. Thanks.

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