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Be the Ocean: Five Steps to Get Unstuck

“Some days you will feel like you are the ocean. Other days you will feel like you are drowning in it.” - Lora Mathis, author, poet, artist, creator.
Feet in the ocean

When I tell people that I am a creativity and growth coach, the response is often, “A what?” and then I respond, “I help people and organizations get unstuck.” That’s when the light bulb goes on. Everyone can recall a time when they have been stuck. It can be with your career path, finding yourself in a power quagmire, facing a problem without a clear solution, managing growth that doesn’t look sustainable, or mired in stagnation that needs a catalyst. As a past executive, I know the false assumption and obsolete expectation is that leaders have or will have all the right answers. What I have learned, and research has proven, the actual superpower of growth and creativity is just the opposite: it isn’t in having the answers, it is in asking and framing all the right questions. The best leaders, creators and organizations innovate from that perspective.

Recently, on the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Psychological Association in partnership with The Harris Poll, reported that the level of stress or feeling of being overwhelmed is at the highest level since the “Stress in America” poll began 15 years ago.


“The nation is still struggling to deal with the prolonged pandemic and its effects on our daily lives, with close to two-thirds of adults (63%) saying their life has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While a majority (51%) reported this change as neither positive nor negative—simply different—the long-lasting implications of the pandemic are clear. The survey also revealed continued hardships for vulnerable populations, concerns for children’s development among parents and entrenched, unhealthy coping habits.”

Stress in America poll, March 2022


While it’s not surprising that stress levels are at an all-time high, how leaders, executives, employees and entrepreneurs look to address this in the workplace will define the future nature of work. Many have begun to imagine what change might look like and what the future might hold. Creative leaders and organizations are reframing their actions in questions, such as, “How do we get unstuck/unstressed?” Here are five steps that remind us that to go from drowning to the ocean, we have to swim:

  1. What Does “Unstuck” Looks Like? One of the first questions I like to ask is, what does “unstuck” look/feel like? And then how do you know that you are unstuck? We tend to spend an inordinate amount of time describing what “stuck” feels and looks like (i.e., drowning in the ocean) and little time describing what release from that feeling looks like (the ocean). In creativity and growth coaching, I focus on where the client aspires to go rather than where they have been. A simple reframe can make all the difference.

  2. Ask What You Control. Part of getting unstuck is understanding what elements are in your control and what are not. Mapping out what you have direct control or influence over, what others have direct control or influence over, and what is out of your control or influence helps focus where to start, strategize, or experiment. A quick mapping exercise with a few accent highlighters (I use green for those items in my control, blue for those that are in others control, and red for those out of my control) can provide insight that allows us to see the forest from the trees. Especially as we enter this “next normal” where change is a given. It opens the conversation of what can I/my business do, what can I ask others to do, and what will I have to accept or ignore. Partnered with #4, getting clarity on cascading priority and influence goals moves ambiguity into action.

  3. Deal with Limiting Beliefs/Best Intentions. Often, best intentions with no action are rooted in a limiting belief or series of limiting beliefs. A limiting belief is a state of mind or belief that restricts you or your organization. The simple question, “What would you do if fear wasn’t there?” helps bring forward both the energy and action to break through a perceived obstacle. It reminds me of the “Monsters Inc.” animated film where the monster is more afraid of the child than the child is of the monster. That’s what reframing looks like.

  4. What if Time Was in Your Control? Being “too busy” or not having “enough time” is a common refrain heard when one is stuck, but it really isn’t about time at all. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, so when time seems to be scarce, it usually means we are not receiving value in how we are spending our time. So, what would you prioritize knowing that time is limited? This is where I see the biggest gap, especially since COVID-19. Incongruity in how people are spending their time related to what they value is showing up as stress, dissatisfaction, and burn out. Mapping your values into your workflow is like rubbing orange oil on a gummy label; with a little scrubbing all that stickiness melts away. By focusing on the important rather than the urgent, you not only get your time back, but balance as well.

  5. Work From Your Strengths. It's surprising how many leaders feel that they need to spend valuable time and energy shoring up their weaknesses. When I ask a leader or a company, “What are you really good at?” there is often an energy that can be harnessed to solve any problem. Often when an organization or leader is stuck, it is because they are managing and/or working from a place of weakness. Studies show that breakthrough growth and creative solutions manifest from a place of non-biased cognition. Having diverse competencies in an organization (compared to everyone thinking the same) solves for cognitive bias. Add to that a culture that encourages participation, and you'll have fertile ground for breakthrough ideas and creative solutions.

© 2022 Break the Tape Leadership. For more creative ideas on growth and strategy, sign up for the Accelerator newsletter or schedule a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

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