Why we get career stuck and how we can get ourselves unstuck

This blog talks about the psychology of stuckness, or, why we get stuck and how we can get ourselves unstuck. This is a big one, fundamental to any sort of life transformation.

Your Mind is Not Your Friend.

Your brain has a big job to do: keep you safe.

It’s a job that it does spectacularly well. And thank goodness it has. Its helped your ancestors evade an impressive bunch of beasts, battles and bad times to keep them alive and increase the odds that you’re sitting here reading this today.

Most of us are fortunate enough to no longer need to look out for hungry lions or rival Tribespeople as we go about our day-to-day tasks. Unfortunately, our brain hasn’t quite caught up with this reality. Harvard psychologist and professor Dan Gilbert says it best:

“Our brains evolved for a very different world from today. A world in which people lived in very small groups, rarely met anybody different from themselves, had short lives with few choices and where the highest priority was to eat and mate today.”

Running toward safety (and away from the uncomfortable) is extremely useful for surviving in the wild; its downright detrimental when it comes to purusing things that matter deeply to us like pursuing a more meaningful professional life and finding work that matters.

Career Psychologist Rob Archer, who has contributed to our Escape programmes said bluntly to a cohort:

“Your brain is not your friend. It’s not your enemy, but it’s also not your friend.”

But there is good news. We can circumvent our minds clever traps if first, we understand how we get stuck and why we stay stuck. 

Archer says that humans can change if these four conditions exist:

  1. We are aware that we are suffering.
  2. We recognise the origin of our suffering.
  3. We recognise there is a way of overcoming our suffering.
  4. We accept that in order to overcome suffering we must change our behaviour.

The fact that you’re here visiting the Escape the City website may suggest #1 being true!

But what about #2, the origin of our career discontent and suffering?

Archer points to 4 ideas:

1) Choice Overload

We have too many choices! Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this conundrum the Paradox of Choice and discusses it in his TED talk of the same name.

2) We Value the Short Term Over the Long-Term

For survival reasons, it made more sense to make choices that benefited us in the short term. A popular experiment known as The Marshmallow Test shows how the hangover of this evolutionary trait affects us today.

3) Our Brains Think in Linear Patterns

Archer points to the scientific theory called The Candle Problem as an example of how our brain is programmed towards Functional Fixedness.

4) Experiential Avoidance

Experiential Avoidance says that your brain wants you to run away from anything that involves pain and fear in the short-term, even if the long-term outcome is something important to you. Archer describes Experiential Avoidance more fully in this video.

Treat discomfort as a good sign.

Moving towards something that matters can be really uncomfortable. As Experiential Avoidance highlights, if a direction excites you, it will likely also scare you. If something is important to you, you’ll also fear losing it, or worse, never finding it at all.

This fear makes it easy (and satisfying) to give up. Especially when things get hard. But when we treat discomfort as our endpoint, rather than the beginning of something new, we don’t give ourselves a chance to fight for what truly matters: having a purposeful career, doing meaningful work, and utilising our full potential.

Counterintuitively, discomfort is actually a good sign. It means you’re growing and moving into unchartered territory. If you feel discomfort, you’re probably doing something right.

Do not give up. If the end goal is important to you, it’s important to keep going!

– Matt Trinetti (@trinetti) Escape School Faculty –


Doing something different with your life and career is hard… but you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help with your Escape and if you are ready to re-take control over your life, consider

  • Joining our programmes for structured support to start a business or change a career with likeminded escapees and coaches.
  • Taking our free Career Fulfilment quiz to reflect on your current work and highlight areas where your job might be falling short.
  • Attending our Get Unstuck bootcamp, designed to help you get out of your head and get clear on whatever is blocking you.
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