Have you ever reached a point where you just feel “stuck”?
It doesn’t matter what you do or how your frame it, things that used to excite you just don’t spin your wheels anymore. Perhaps you feel like you’ve reached a sort of crossroads.
What if I told you that you may be experiencing a clash with your personal values? This is very common - perhaps you’re working in a job that doesn’t fulfill your values, or maybe your values have changed over time.
When you just can’t muster the energy and enthusiasm you once had, when you’re missing the joy certain things once held, it’s important to stop and evaluate. Sometimes the feelings you get can be associated with depression or anxiety. On the other hand, sometimes feeling stuck can be a trigger for depression too. Evaluate carefully and always seek help where needed.
Here’s why values matter when it comes to feeling fulfilled:
The thing about values is that they’re very, well, personal to each person. You and I may hold some similar values, but some that are very different too. This means we’ll often feel differently about the same situation.
Let’s say you’re working in a high-powered job that was a career aspiration. You’ve been in the role for a few years and on paper, you’re very successful. When you started, you were excited to work for the company and you admired the CEO.
Lately though, you’ve noticed some things and you’re not sure you like them. You look at your work and wonder what it really means - what is your purpose? Does what you’re doing really matter? You can make some killer numbers when it comes to KPIs, but you’re not sure how it benefits society. Your job no longer feels meaningful.
There’s a good chance in this situation that you’re experiencing a disconnect between your job and your values. Perhaps the company you’re working for or the role you have does not place value on what you personally value.
You’re in a quandary - you should be happy having a dream role, but you feel stuck instead. Something is missing.
Research into how our values affect our feelings reveals just how important they are to our sense of well-being. Your values should drive your decisions. And they will trigger that “stuck” feeling if they are not being honored.
It’s okay to feel the way you do, even if others would love to be in your position. Your values are different.
If things have changed with how the company operates, perhaps it no longer gels with your values. On the other hand, sometimes things stay the same, but it's you that has changed…
You know what? Your values might completely change over time. Not only is that okay, but it’s completely normal.
We all grow up, have life experiences and move through different stages. Over time, our priorities can change and our values with them.
For example, if you’re a business owner who abided by the “hustle, hustle, hustle” principle in your younger years, you may find that your lifestyle doesn’t suit that attitude as you grow older.
Your business may have been built on long, caffeine-fueled days, a “do whatever it takes” mantra and a strong belief in your core product or service. Many businesses are! Then one day, you’re trying to explain to your six-year-old why you can’t go to their soccer game because there’s an emergency at work.
It doesn’t sit right with you. You feel guilty, sad for your child and have the nagging feeling that you’re missing out. That’s right, your values have changed!
Where work and the success of the business was a consuming priority before, your family sits in the top spot now. If you can’t find a way to balance the work demands with family time (whatever that looks like for you), you’ll experience that “stuck” feeling.
Sometimes feeling stuck relates directly to values you hold too. Let’s say a strong personal value of yours is freedom. When you started your business, you envisaged having more freedom to dress how you like, use your time how you like and hang out with the people you like. When you find that you’re not “doing exactly what you’d like,” your freedom value is not being met.
Have you ever intentionally defined the things you value most in life? If you have, did you revisit them later, or have you left the exercise?
We know that your personal values impact every aspect of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We also know that those values may change over time - this means that “evaluating your values” is an exercise that is worth repeating regularly.
You may have come across Simon Sinek before, author of “Start with Why” and a very popular TEDTalk on the same topic. His core message is about how leaders can inspire people to action.
He says your “big why” is essentially what gets you out of bed in the morning. It gives meaning and purpose to what you do.
“Fulfillment comes when we live our lives on purpose,” Sinek says.
We all have one big purpose in life, and usually even more than one "big why." The trick is to know what core values created your "big why."
There are a number of good exercises available to help guide you through some self-reflection on your values (here’s a career-based worksheet from the University of Birmingham). Pick one that works in terms of format and take the time to work your way through it.
You might even choose to talk to a coach, therapist or trusted confidante. Do whatever you can to gain clarity on your personal values.
An interesting point to reflect on is how you personally define success or failure. This can play a huge role in how you feel, especially in that “stuck” situation. This passage is from psychologist Jim Taylor:
“Blindly having accepted society’s narrow definitions of success and failure takes away your power to decide how you wish to define them. By buying into popular culture’s limiting definitions of success and failure rather than choosing definitions based on your own values, you can’t become truly successful and happy because you are forced down a path that is, for most people, impossible to attain and that is not truly yours.”
You’re feeling stuck and nothing seems to get you motivated anymore. Now that you’ve considered your core values again, can you see where there might be a problem?
Sometimes you might not need to take any drastic action, such as quitting your job or selling your business. Sometimes you just need to change the model a bit.
For example, if too much time on work issues is encroaching on family time, you might identify how you can train someone to take on responsibilities, or structure operations so that your presence isn’t necessary at all. (If you don't believe that's possible, look up David Finkle's book, Scale).
Remember, change does not necessarily have to be drastic or complex. Just making a decision to begin moving toward a future goal can remove much of the emotional pressure you've been feeling.
We’ve all had (or will have) periods in our lives when we feel stuck. The things that should usually excite us are no longer appealing, and there’s a general feeling that you’re not in the right place.
Whether this feeling arises with work or with your personal life, it can be a sign that what we are doing doesn’t gel with our values.
The key starting point is to gain clarity over your values. A sense of purpose has to come from the core of your being. If not, you’re just pretending and you still won’t find fulfillment.
There’s something very uplifting about being able to live in the direction of your values. It liberates you to be true to who you really are. I hope if you’re feeling stuck, you’re able to gain some clarity and choose a new direction.
Dr. Todd Snyder
Psychologist | Productivity Coach | Decision Consultant