Stuck. Spinning. Going Nowhere.

Posted On: 02.08.11

These days, I see the same scenes over and over.

Bundled souls standing on mountains of filthy and icy snow, trying to dig a car out, trying to free a vehicle that is stuck. Going nowhere.

A person in the driver’s seat. Pumping gas. Wheels whirring. Tires spinning. Going nowhere.

Stuck. Spinning. Going nowhere.

Sound familiar? Maybe. Because this is not a post about snow and its pestering aftermath. This is a post about life. Adulthood. You.

Yes, you. In the past several weeks, I have had the same conversation with two different people. Two very different people. In these particular exchanges, I played the role of listener. And though the circumstances and stories these individuals told were different, the gist was the same. And that gist?

I feel stuck. As if I am spinning. Going nowhere.

And so. It occurred to me that maybe there is something about adulthood or parenthood or personhood that makes us feel as if we are trapped and trying, but making little progress. Is it that for so long we crave safety and security and stability but when these things come they stifle us? Is it that the older we get, and the more responsibilities we take on, the harder it is to walk away, to break free, to live change? Is it that we learn to commit – to people, to places, to professions – and then these commitments feel like shackles, like impediments to freedom we once enjoyed?

I don’t know. But there is something here. Something elusive and important. Because I have felt it. Stuck in a rut of snow and life. Spinning my existential and emotional wheels. Going nowhere.

Stuck. Spinning. Going nowhere.


Are these things, these feelings and facts, avoidable? Or are they part of life? A part of life that makes us savor and celebrate those times when we are free and moving and getting somewhere? When we are stuck and spinning, how do we dig ourselves out?

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33 Comments for: "Stuck. Spinning. Going Nowhere."
  1. Oh, yes, I know this feeling … so frustrating. For me at least (and I imagine for many of us) it’s not actually uncorrelated with the weather. This pervasive grayness somehow seems to seep into me.
    I don’t have ideas for getting out of it but am really interested in those others suggest. xox

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Very interesting point re: the weather. I thought this was just a metaphor, but I think you are right. There is something about the ominous cold, the unrelenting grayness, that affects us and our sense of progress. I do think it’s worth elaborating a bit on the conversations I had about this. Both were about how we spend time. And each individual has a pattern in his/her life which involves commitments (to kids, to career, to a certain way of doing thing) that are for the most part fulfilling. But both expressed to me a desire for change, for doing something a bit different, but also a sense of paralysis because change would entail compromising commitments that have been made…

      For instance, volunteering three times a week means not spending those hours with kids, etc. Questions of guilt are certainly wrapped up in this.

      I think that subconsciously I was also referencing my own fiction writing when penning this post. I have actually been working a lot on my next novel and though I have certainly experienced major moments when I know I am getting somewhere, there are many more moments when I have felt like time is passing and words are coming, but I am just spinning. Does this make sense?

      As I said, I think this sense of paralysis, of existential spin, is endemic to humanity… But what to do about it? I haven’t the faintest. I too look forward to comments on this one when (and if!) they come!

      • Dara

        Not sure the cold is the problem. My friends and I have been having the same conversation lately and it’s 70 and sunny in Los Angeles almost every day.

        I think it’s our age. In our 30s we’re either stuck where we were in our 20s and that feels monotonous, or we got where we were going (wrote a book! made partner! had a baby!) only to ask “is that all there is?”

        Not sure it’s endemic to humanity, but it’s certainly endemic to the Western World.

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          Dara – Thank you for chiming in and cluing us all into the fact that this might night be about weather at all. (Or not entirely at least). I do think many of us are in a period of our lives when we harbor great goals and either feel stuck in the sense that we feel we can’t reach them OR we achieve some of these goals and realize that on some profound level we still feel stuck. Now you have me curious as to whether this “stuck feeling” is an intrinsically Western phenomenon or whether it is something more broadly experienced? I have to imagine that it is – like so many other things – a bit of a privileged problem. Here we all are with the freedom and luxury to ponder our “stuckness”, right? As always, thank you for your thoughtful words.

  2. Great insights, as always. I’m in a fairly good place right now, given the upheaval of this past year. I’m finding my voice again and taking control of and responsibility for my life. But, I spent many a day stuck, spinning, going nowhere first. I think that’s how life tends to work; breakdowns and breakthroughs. Ends and new beginnings. Funny, that’s exactly what my new blog post is about…

  3. I know exactly what you mean. I just wrote about this in another context, but Jodi Mitchell’s song, “The Circle Game” is my creative nemesis. Everytime I feel as if my writing is going in circles, that song plays through my head. I dig myself out by reading a favorite book, starting a new project, or something simple like renting a movie to watch with the kids.

    Unrelated to writing, this morning I tweeted, “Today is one of those days when I wish I wasn’t the grown up.” Spinning a bit here, myself.

  4. I think that when we are stuck and spinning we often *are* digging ourselves out–we just don’t realize it. I don’t think this is always the case (I’m thinking of pretty major downward spirals here, though, not the inevitable malaise we all find ourselves in), but I have found that in my own life when I’ve felt stuck and spinning I am often mulling. Mulling and mulling and mulling over how to re-fit my life to my self, my self to my life. It feels stuck and spinning because it doesn’t look like other times in our lives when we’re out and doing. I wonder what this says about our culture? Is stuck and spinning sometimes really just a necessary retreat to take inventory, to check how limbs and ideas stretch and work, to sink back into the self? I feel like there’s a lot of pressure for certainty, for conviction of action in our society. There’s also a lot of pressure to be happy (not that happiness is undesirable…but unhappiness is so inevitable, so rich and full and generative in its own right). I guess where I’m going with this is, is the problem not so much the stuck and spinning feeling, but is stuck and spinning a product of a cultural paradigm that prioritizes the external over the internal? Would stuck and spinning feel different if it were viewed culturally as stepping back, as not taking your path for granted, as struggling to lead a conscious life?

    Such great questions you’re asking, Aidan…

  5. I think sometimes it isn’t necessarily that we can’t go anywhere, but that we don’t know where we are headed next. I think life is a journey of little destinations, and sometimes when we reach a goal, we reach somewhere we have been trying to get to, then we spin in place for a while as we determine what our next direction should be. Kind of like that feeling when you finish a really good book, and you feel adrift until you find another book to begin.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I love this. That life is a journey of little destinations. I think for some reason we tend to grow focused on the big and heralded landmarks and lose track of the fact that progress, true progress, is made in tiny increments. And I also agree that when we have reached a place, we do spin in place for a while until we set our sights on the next stop. Thanks so much for your words here.

  6. We seem to both be spinning, Aidan! Today I wrote about how full my life is with multiple deadlines and obligations, and I used the metaphor of spinning plates to visualize how to keep the projects all going. I also am always describing my internal state as “swirling,” so a variation on a theme. May we all move forward in our states of spinning and swirling. xo

  7. The grayness makes me feel less eager and less desire to accomplish things that need to get done. I agree with you that the desire for change sometimes is overcome by paralysis, because we would have to compromise the commitments already made. It’s a juggle and it’s normal that sometimes we feel that we are stuck and spinning.

  8. I agree with Lindsey that it is partly the weather–this morning we had a brief stint of sunshine that gave me a ray of hope that we would have a sunny day–but now it is gray and snowing again and it just makes me want to curl up on the sofa and huddle down.

    AND I agree with Rachel–so often for me when I feel stuck or I am spinning on the same bit of angst I am moving forward it is just underground at a slower pace. Feeling stuck doesn’t mean we are not making progress–we just aren’t making progress at the lightening speed expected by society. As my nearest and dearest reminded me change is hard and takes A LONG time. Maybe the notion of feeling stuck is to remind us to be a patient with ourselves and where we are on the journey.

    Thanks for the great post!!

  9. I don’t think this sense of being stuck is necessarily part and parcel of adulthood. But I do think that it is facilitated by adulthood.

    As children, teens, and young adults life provides us with near constant changes and opportunities for growth and evolution. We learn to walk and talk. We learn to ride a bike and play sports. We learn to write in cursive and to multiply. We learn to drive and to think critically. We vote. We go to college. We graduate. We get jobs. We get married. We have kids.

    Then, for many of us, we get to our mid-thirties and realize that nothing big has changed in a while. Career is plugging along. Kids are plugging along. We look around and things are much the same as they were five years ago. And we think, “I’m stuck.”

    The fact of the matter (I think, anyway) is not that we are stuck, but that we have arrived in a place where life is not doling out big changes all the time. It is now incumbant upon us to make those changes for ourselves. On hand, this can be very empowering because we are in more control of the changes we experience. On the other hand, it is very easy to stick with the safety of what we know, continue to spin our wheels, and then deal with the frustration of a life that, in rare moments of real truth, perhaps doesn’t live up to its potential.

    I’ve felt stuck. I’ve felt itchy for change. I know this feeling well. I struggle a great deal to make changes when these feelings arise. But I’ve never regretted facing that struggle head on. The discomfort of change has always been better than the frustration of stagnation.

    • Perspective fascinates me. My mid thirties were relatively easy. Aside from a major health scare with my father there weren’t big issues.

      Now in my early forties I see things differently. I don’t feel stuck or trapped in the sense that I can’t get out, but it feels like the consequences are more pronounced.

      When my kids weren’t in school there was a lot more flexibility now there are a lot more concerns because the things that I do impact them more severely.

      I don’t say that to minimize your concerns either. It is just a different time.

      As for stuck, well to me that is ‘simple.’ If you know what you want to do you need to make a plan and then work on it. This is getting a bit long, so maybe it is better suited as a blog post.

  10. Without sounding too earthy crunchy, I’m beginning to believe there’s meaning in those stuck moments. Like when you’re ill, your body’s making a request to slow down and heal. When things slow down or even come to a halt, we can either keep pushing or try to understand the reasons why things aren’t moving. Maybe they’re not right for us, the timing is off, there’s another direction we should pursue. At the very least, we can take a moment to relax and enjoy not having to push.

    That’s how I try to handle it. It ain’t easy, but I try!

  11. It’s hard to measure progress in parenting but I don’t feel stuck. I feel the opposite actually. I feel the wheels are turning and the days passing and I want to savor it. I also have a desire to take a year off or rent a camper or homeschool my kids and a lot of other things to make the ordinary extraordinary. So it’s not stuck but I think it could all be better.

  12. I often feel as though I’m working, working, working towards something…and the end goal is SO long-term that it’s hard to see the progress in a day, a week, even a month or year. And it feels like being “stuck.” But I should try not to live my life this way – always looking ahead. My life is NOW, so I need to learn to enjoy the journey more (and I do – I love my life and try to appreciate all the small moments). But I think I could do that even more. I just think we live in a culture that’s so forward-thinking and goal-oriented. Everyone’s so anxious, for example, to get married or have kids or what have you. Why not savor the time leading up to those huge life events, rather than rushing through them?

    • My sister has a greeting card that she loves, the front of which reads, “Nothing happens and nothing happens and then everything happens.” Your comment reminded me of this. We do look for chage to happen quickly. We are reluctant to let change bloom in its own time. Perhaps if we were more inclined to savor the time leading up to change we would appreciate it all more.

  13. I def know this feeling! I felt stuck in my career, wheels spinning. Going nowhere. It was making me so unhappy. I finally realized one day that I am the only person that has the power to make a change. So I did. And I have never looked back.

  14. This sounds like a common refrain of 30-40-somethings with kids and careers. Unfortunately, not everyone is as brave to admit it. And, interestingly, I see that I’m the first male in the comments here to agree with you! (But I don’t know if that’s a reflection of what people think, what people say, or simply who’s reading your great blog!)

  15. I’ve often pondered the tradeoffs of freedom and commitment. This is especially true since my divorce. I once wrote a short piece about the freedom that comes with being single. I left it up on the computer and my son, who I think was around 11 at the time, read it and said: “Mom, you don’t have freedom… You have me.”

    I thought about it and realized he was right! I didn’t have freedom at all! My life revolved around him and all the responsibilities that came with parenthood. And in that moment I realized that if you are committed to something / someone you really love, you wouldn’t give that up for all the freedom in the world.

    So I hugged him and told him he was right and told him that I thanked God every day because being his Mom was the best part of my life.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I love this anecdote so much. I often think this too. I don’t have “freedom,” but I have them. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  16. I’m not sure I have answers, but your questions resonated with me. I feel that way often. Sometimes I feel like getting unstuck professionally requires me to be self-centered to the point of shorting my family. And vice versa, when I focus on un-sticking the family, I short my professional goals.

    I do think it’s a side effect of the responsible life. And yet, I don’t want any other life. I want to be a rock for my family. And I want to be a rock professionally, as well. I have no time or space for flighty. But should we allow for a little flightiness now and then??

    As I said, no answers.

  17. Hello Aidan, Great topic. In my life things are just the opposite.In my “Family”,life was already laid out before I was born and I was expected to toe the line. I however, had different plans. I owe it all to my Dad, who;for the lack of a better word, was The Back Sheep of the family. His ability to see the world not as back and white but more Rouge et Noir, gave me the ability to look past the “Family expectations”. I felt stuck in my childhood but now as a young man (in my 40s ) I feel that I can do most anything that I chose. I still have the expectations, but now I am free to fill my dance card and dance to my own tune and chose the partners that I find, not the ones chosen for me. My only constraint is an aging parent, that I do so love. I chose to spend my time with her and create lasting memories.
    That is enough out of me.
    Always, Bumby

  18. Yes I screwed up the whole line: Black Sheep. Well, there it is 🙂
    Always, Bumby ( I did get that one right LOL)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Isn’t it amazing how much of who we are is informed by who our parents were/are? I think about this often and it fascinates me. It also makes me think of the fact that who I am right now, and who I become, will affect my children. It is wonderful that you feel such liberty in your life now to be who you want to be and be with whom you want to be. And as someone who has lost a parent recently, it seems your priorities on that front are well in-check. Thanks for the thoughtful words, Bumby.

  19. Absolutely I’ve been there. Lately there are some things in my life that are really hard and I have just said to myself, “Self, stop worrying, what is the worst that could happen?” I know I will always have my family and truly, that is all that matters. I’ve decided to really really find joy in the journey, the WHOLE journey.

  20. I like what Gale said. This is a time in life when we must make our own changes and that is…tiring. It takes effort. No wonder we get stuck.

    I also like the sentiments of Tart and Soul, that there is healing available in stuckness. The body waits for a bit in order to catch its breath.

    In response to your musings about your novel, I have experienced this with writing so many times (though I don’t write novels). I spin and spin and go nowhere. For sometimes a VERY long time. Then, there is a little movement. Or big movement. Or I let it rest. Does the spinning stir something?

  21. This is honestly such a relevant post for me right now. Just the other day, I was talking to my boyfriend about how I felt stuck. I feel like I don’t know where I’m going, if I’m going anywhere. I know that I’m working for something but that something isn’t concrete. I want a future. I want to be happy. I want to start a family. But all of these perfectly attainable things seem so far away. Yes, they are definite possibilities, but they are in the horizon. I could get started on them right away but I am postponing them … waiting until we both graduate. waiting until we both get jobs. waiting until we have enough money. I can’t help but wonder … will my day ever come? And when it does come, will I still feel like this?

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Such thoughtful, candid words. So much of this is about distance and timing, isn’t it? We glimpse things in our future and some seem far off, but then when we truly contemplate having these things, we wonder how different we will be and feel? Will we still feel that sense of standing still, of spinning?

  22. I have felt it all too many times. That feeling of stuckness. It doesn’t feel good. At all. It definitely makes me feel like giving up, at times. But there is just something about the beauty of pushing pass things. Of pressing. And of reaching the point of break-though. Perhaps this is what keeps me going? Us going?

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