Have you ever been felt stuck in a work situation? You were hoping that things would improve but eventually came to the realization that it’s just the way it is. What’s worse, you just can’t see how you can get out of that situation.


That’s a horrible feeling—feeling stuck. I’ve been there.


Several years ago, I was working for a large corporation where I realized that I wasn’t using my strengths and didn’t feel as appreciated as I would’ve liked. Yet, the thought of figuring out what to do about it seemed absolutely daunting. Maybe even impossible!


The prison cell door isn’t locked


I described my situation to someone I trusted as what I would imagine it’s like to be in a prison cell. Feeling trapped. Can’t see anything beyond your own cell. He listened attentively and added wisely:


Yes, you’re in a prison cell, but the door isn’t locked.


His words about the cell door not being locked resonated tremendously with me. I recognized the truth that no one was forcing me to keep working that particular job—I could leave at any time. And although I knew that on a rational level, visualizing my situation as an unlocked prison cell door allowed me to shift my thinking from being problem-focused to being solution-focused.


Shift from problem-focus to solution-focus


For the first time, I allowed myself to imagine what life might be like outside the prison cell I’d created. Sometimes when we’re in a tough situation that consumes our time and energy, we spend so much time understanding the problem that we forget to think about solutions.


As a career coach, I often hear about the prison known as The Golden Handcuffs. A person is paid so well in their current job that, even though she’s miserable, she can’t envision leaving that job. The person in the Golden Handcuffs knows the problem extremely well. She can articulate how she wouldn’t get paid as well if she switched to another company or followed her passion. And how she and her family have school loans to pay. And how they’re accustomed to a certain standard of living.


Envision the ideal solution


All these observations about your situation are great to focus on if you’re happy and comfortable with your decision to stay in your current job. However, if you’re stuck in a rut, are miserable at work, and wish your situation were different, gaining a deeper understanding of the problem likely won’t help change your situation. Envisioning solutions will.


It can be hard to envision solutions if you’re in a prison cell. All you see is the prison cell, and it’s been so long since you’ve thought about what else your work life could be like.


But even if you ARE able to envision a life outside your cell—doing some other type of work that is more fulfilling—you may not want to think about it because you have no idea how you could make that happen. Why tease yourself with a fantasy that you may not be able to make a reality?


Well, whatever your particular difficulty, I encourage you to get past it and try to envision solutions.


Everyone’s situation with work and life is different. There’s no magic bullet that works to get everyone out of every rut they’re stuck in. However, I do know this: You’re much more likely to change a bad work situation by imagining ways that your work life could be better—even if you don’t know how you’d do that—than by continuing to focus on the problem.


Give it a try!



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achievers communicate with Purpose and get the career results they want.