Getting Unstuck

I've been feeling a bit stuck lately. You know when you start to feel a bit foggy brained, and even simple things become big problems? That kind of stuck.

by bob

Sep 28, 2012

Stuck in the mudI’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately. You know when you start to feel a bit foggy brained, and even simple things become big problems? That kind of stuck.

There are certain things I know to some extent how to do. Some come quite naturally, others take a bit more effort, but fall into areas where I have at least a fair amount of understanding and can figure out eventually.

Moving to another country and setting up my family would not fall into either of these categories.

I’m guessing that if your employer transfers you to another country for work, most likely there is a structure in place to help with that process. But I think even more importantly there is the fact that you have a clearly defined job that will occupy about 1/3 of your day. Having that kind of structure is crucial is beginning to organize your new life.

For me, my best semester in college (GPA wise at least) was the semester where I worked 30 hours per week, was one of the leaders in our campus fellowship group, and a full class load that required over 20 term papers. While it was not a schedule I could have kept up for a long period of time, it had the impact of ensuring that every moment of my day was structured, and used wisely (nearly every trip to the bathroom included a textbook…was that too much information?)

My freshman year where I had no job and countless hours of free time…I’m a bit hazy on the details of that year…I do know I ended up transferring to a new school the next year.

As we moved to Ireland, we did have the benefit of a family who not only opened their home to us, but also were able to help us figure out things like residency, housing, and perhaps most importantly things Americans say that they should not say over here (if you wear a certain type of bag around your waist over here, you should call it a “bum bag.” Trust me on that.)

In our first month or two here, there were many things we needed to figure out, but there was also a very specific checklist we were able to work through: find a place to rent, purchase a car, obtain auto insurance, figure out the bus system so the girls can get to school…basic type of stuff like that.

And once all of that was done, and we’re in our new place life started to get a bit more ambiguous…at least it felt that way for me.

Back in January we talked over a couple Sundays at the Vineyard about transitions (here & here)…what they feel like…steps to walk through them…stuff like that. As I’ve mentioned here before, talking about what transition feels like is quite a bit different from actually experiencing it.

A couple of characteristics of the transition stage of the process were:

  • Chaos – Nothing feels settled or routine (check)
  • Temporary Dysfunction – Support systems are gone (check)
  • You are more self protective (check)
  • Unmet expectations (check)
  • Loss of self-esteem (check & mate)

Another item on the list, which I mentioned at the start of this post was that problems are exaggerated. And they aren’t just exaggerated, there is this overwhelming sense that they all need to be done NOW! (even if they don’t)

To wake up in the morning & think, I need to:

  • Find a job
  • Raise support
  • Write blog posts
  • Write other stuff
  • Meet people
  • Spend quality time with Liz and all for kids
  • the list actually goes on for a while, but you get the point.

And the thing is, so many items on that list are open ended…you can’t work for x number of hours and then check off…”Today I will find a job, raise 10% of our needed budget, and make 5 new friends.” (can you say “guaranteed to fail?“)

And with the way my mind works, when I can’t check things off my list, every item on my list seems to get bigger & bigger.

This week however has been a lot better.

So here’s something I did this week that seems to be helping.

  1. Ignore the whole list for a while: Mike and Karly Foster came over for a week, and it was great to hang out with friends. Mike is someone I’d developed a discipleship/coaching relationship with over the past couple of years so spending time with them was refreshing. It had the added benefit of taking all of the stuff on list and putting it on hold for the most part. That had the impact of allowing me to step back & look at everything with a bit more perspective.
  2. Just do something. During the first couple weeks here, I had one day where my to do list included, find and buy a car in the morning, and rent a place to live in the afternoon…I won’t go into the other items on my list…needless to say, that was a bad day. As I got back to my list this week I decided to take Bob’s advice, and just take some baby steps. Yesterday my only goal was to write 500 words for something I’ve been working on. And I got to 1000 in about 80 minutes. That gave me time and energy to organize my job search a bit and make a couple of contacts. One day it was contact someone I’d heard a lot about and have a cup of coffee with them. I wrote earlier that one of the benefits of making a checklist is that completing items is energizing. That’s proven true this week.
  3. Listen to that voice in your head. While I was on the train with Mike one day this weekend, we passed the local fitness centre in Clontarf. And the thought in my head was, you need to join this week. As I thought about it, I thought that it would be a potential way to meet people…it will get me out of the house…and exercise would be helpful at this point. So on Tuesday I joined a gym.
  4. Ignore that other voice in your head. The next thought I had when thinking about the gym was we can’t afford it. (you remember that whole…need to find a job & raise support thing?) Now I’m going to add another item to the list? Well, the day before I went in, someone made a first-time, one-time donation that covered the first month of membership as well as the sign up fee. And then Liz pointed out that if I drove to the gym and dropped the girls off for school on the way, we’d save more than half of the monthly membership fee in bus fares. When you are in the midst of stressful stuff, it becomes easy to focus on all the things you can’t do…you need to be able to silence that voice.
  5. Set a time to stop. When I’m in a place where I’m not working very effectively, I tend to simply try & work longer. Over the past several weeks I found myself on too many nights on the computer looking for a job, or trying to write a blog post, or something like that. However, what I find is that the more stressed and frustrated I am, the less effective I am at getting anything done. So I’ve decided that at 6:00 pm I’m done working. This is probably the hardest step of this process for me…which is probably because it’s the one I need the most.

And, speaking of setting a time to stop…I think that would be about here.

What do you find helpful when you feel yourself stuck?

[image from NeilsPhotography, via Flickr Creative Commons]

What about Bob?


I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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  1. Ann

    Good list. I’ve had a somewhat similar transition to sabbatical; there isn’t a demand on every moment of my life, now what? Figuring out a structure for my day/week is helpful (sounds like you’re finding it)

    • Bob Wilson

      Thanks Ann. I do think that having 3 kids of a certain age make any kind of structure impossible:-)

  2. Kathy Powell Nelson

    I totally get the whole “list” thing! We have lists and sub-lists and lists of our lists. Some of the lists refer to things we need to do around the house in order to try to get it sold. Some of the lists refer to things we are trying to do to make money in non-traditional ways to free us up and provide an income, so we can go help a family with a church plant. And yet other lists refer to things we would like to accomplish that are not related to work or house (like hobbies, losing weight, writing, podcasting, things like that). We finally had to stop posting the lists where we could see them, because it was all too overwhelming, and we just ended up frozen by indecision. Because our lists didn’t have timelines/deadlines – and even if they did, we’re good at letting ourselves off the hook when we fudge the deadlines (not useful)! – things just were not moving forward.

    So we have started a new thing: a whiteboard with a 6×6 list for each of us. Each list contains 6 items that we’re going to accomplish within 6 weeks. Items get checked off as they get completed. At the end of the 6 weeks, a new list gets developed, and we start over. Though, based on the timeline we were looking at for making our move, those lists really need to be more like 12×6 or 18×6… 🙂

    Sounds like you’ve got a great start on getting a handle on your list-mania. I wish you continued success!

    • Bob Wilson

      Our “move to Dublin/leave Ithaca” lists were getting insane, I eventually mind mapped it and it took up half a wall in my office. Still think there was a lot we never got to check off…hopefully we did all of the important stuff!


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