Fascinated by the dilemmas that both my clients and I were facing, I launched an independent research project. I interviewed 100 women (ages 22 - 68 with jobs ranging from CEOs to unemployed) to learn about how women have gotten stuck and unstuck over the course of their lives.
There was a whole range of "stuckness" happening for women. They were stuck in dead-end marriages, unfulfilling careers, not knowing "what's next," lives that they had worked hard to build - but once they got there - it turned out it wasn't what they had hoped for. Many felt trapped by sunk costs (spending 10 years becoming a doctor just to find out they hated it), guilt, expectations of themselves, and a feeling that the "devil you know" is better than that unknown. On the other hand, many didn't feel actively "stuck." They had good lives and felt that everything was "pretty good," but they still couldn't shake the feeling that there has to be something more to life - something deeper, more fulfilling, inspiring, and meaningful.
In the end, humbled and inspired by their stories, here is what I found and believe.
Women are smart. They are motivated to change. Having a hard time making changes to our lives isn't because we're lazy, stubborn, or weak. And it isn't because we need more motivation, discipline, or willpower.
I discovered that there are not only patterns to the ways that women get stuck, but consistent and predictable ones. We, as women, are repeatedly getting stuck making significant life changes for one-of-three reasons:
1. Our Lack of Clarity
Some of us get stuck because we lack clarity on what we want. The ways in which we spend our time often feel “off,” not super fulfilling, or out-of-alignment with what we know could feel deeper or more inspiring. But sometimes we have no clue what would feel deeper or more inspiring in the first place, so we spin or wheels, or just “stay the course” despite our better judgement. We might feel, “this isn’t working,” but we can’t articulate what we actually do want or what our next steps in life should be.
2. Our Time
Some of us get stuck because we aren’t organizing our time and setting up our lives in ways that are aligned with what’s most important to us. We may be super clear on what we want, but have trouble organizing our time to align with those things. We say “yes” to too many things, have so much housework and laundry and meals to cook that we can’t spend quality time with our kids, we are so tired at the end of the day that we can’t meaningfully connect with our partners, we are overstimulated and over digitized, we run around like crazy but aren’t meaningfully connecting with anyone. We need to intentionally reclaim and reorganize our time.
Many of us get stuck because (often without even knowing it) we are living under the weight of expectations, feelings of what we “should” do with our lives, ideas about what "good" moms / wives / daughters / employees do, stories we tell ourselves about who we are supposed to be - and how we are supposed to be living our lives - that are holding us back.