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Truthy Tuesday: Two Types of Stuckness & Two Ways to Get Moving Again

Truthy Tuesday with Bettie Newell

{By Guest Maven, Bettie Newell}

Its late afternoon and all is silent except for the occasional creak and groan of this old house and the satisfied sighs of the chihuahua in my lap.

Every member of the family is off doing something and I’ve got a blissful hour to myself to write about getting unstuck. I’m doodling in my journal, thinking about how to get started on this post. Ironically, I am completely at a loss. I am totally, unmistakably stuck. I resist the urge to jump online and see what everyone else is up to, what others might have said about this topic. Instead, I scribble a few words, stare out the window longingly at the sunshine, then give up, grab my camera, and head outside for a little inspiration.

When Jen asked me to be a Guest Maven this month, I was excited. I’m in the middle of a year-long photo project to get unstuck creatively so I figured it would be easy to share my story. But I’m a visual person, almost always preferring images to words and I realized, as I sat in front of a blank piece of paper, that this was going to prove harder than I thought. A week later, and I still only had a few random thoughts written down. And it was another couple of days before it started to all come together. As I put the finishing touches on this article (more than two weeks after my first brainstorming session and mere hours before it is due), I can see that the process I went through to write it was a perfect metaphor for exploring how I get unstuck.

In my experience, there are two different types of stuckness.

by Bettie Newell

There’s the difficulty in moving forward kind, the kind that occurs because of second-guessing and other types of indecision. This is the stuckness that may not feel all that sticky at first, especially if you are in your comfort zone. I call this “pragmatic stuckness” because when I’m here, it isn’t because I don’t know what concrete steps need to be taken next. I’m stuck because I just can’t seem to feel confident enough to move one way or another. I’ve got the to-do list, but I just can’t seem to get things done. If you are someone like me who is a little resistant to change, it might take a few days (or weeks or months) to recognize that you aren’t making headway on the things that really are going to propel you forward when you are in this place.

The other kind of stuckness, the one that feels insurmountable and endlessly more frustrating, is stuckness in vision. This is the more pervasive kind of block, the one where you just don’t know what comes next, what you want to focus your energy on. It’s a desperate kind of feeling and is instantly recognizable as sticky. The people with visionary stuckness are the ones who are stressing out because they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Maybe they are at a crossroads in their career, or wanting to take their business down a different path. When you have visionary stuckness, you just don’t know what to do next. It could simply be that you’ve got writer’s block (like I did with this post). Or you might be asking yourself a lot of hard questions. The kind that if you can figure out the answer to even one of them, it could radically change your life.

I’ve been struggling with my own sticky demons in the last couple of years.

by Bettie Newell

I left the full-time practice of law in 2010 so that I could focus my energy on my children and my creative pursuits. I was ready to turn my photography hobby into a revenue-generating business. As an attorney, I counsel businesses all the time on start-up issues. I know how to get an LLC off the ground, all the steps it takes to legitimize a business, issues to address up front to avoid having to fix a bunch of problems later. I wasn’t in the least bit worried about getting my own small project started. I had a whole notebook full of the decisions that had to be made, not a full blown business plan, but an organized and thoughtful approach for starting my new venture. But only a couple of months into my new life a number of things happened that got in the way of my progress and I had to put my plans on hold.

Fast forward to last September, many of the barriers that had been erected were no longer an issue. I got out my notebook and gave myself until the end of the year to accomplish some of the more fundamental items on my list. But as the weeks went by and 2013 began, I found I wasn’t making any decisions and, consequently, there was no forward motion. Not because I didn’t know what steps to take, but because I overanalyzed and then overwhelmed myself by just not deciding on some very basic items: business structure, banking, branding. I would pick apart my options, fret over them, and then just sit there. And if that weren’t bad enough, in addition to stalling out on the practical side, I started to question some of my bigger goals. Some of the collaborations and opportunities I wanted to pursue started to feel wrong. I put the brakes on everything (again) and was feeling utterly stuck.

I experience lots of dualities in my life. I’ve got left brain days and right brain days because I am practical and imaginative. My dual nature requires different stimulation (hence attorney AND photographer) and different approaches, just like my sticky patterns.

My pragmatic stuckness comes from insecurity, from not feeling like I’m ready to take the next step. To get out if it requires prioritizing, it takes ACTION to unstick and propel myself forward. It requires both discipline and confidence. If you are lacking in either of these qualities, now is the time to call in your support system! When I’m stuck in this place of hesitancy, I challenge myself to just start getting things done. I might pick three to five tasks that I’ve been avoiding and commit to accomplishing at least two of them in a week. On the flip side, I also allow myself the freedom to put things off once or twice. Usually if something has made it to my list for three weeks running, I end up tackling it, just to make it go away.

My creative stuckness, on the other hand, doesn’t respond to action. It needs quiet and space which will hopefully lead to clarity and a change in perspective. It might be physical space, like a long walk or a bath. It might be psychological space, like deciding that it is okay to not figure everything out right at this moment and cutting yourself some slack. It’s an exercise in letting go.

When I’m lacking inspiration, it often occurs because of physical exhaustion or just having too many things on my plate. When I hit that point, I need to be able to get quiet enough to hear my own voice and that takes a combination of physical and psychological space, a freedom from distractions. It took me a long time to realize how much the internet negatively affected my creativity. I have to get away from everyone else’s ideas and stories to really figure out what it is I’m trying to say. A couple of hours unplugged from email and social media is often all it takes. I try to fill some of that time with real life interactions. Photo walks, happy hour, baking with the kiddos, anything that allows me to step out of whatever problem I’m trying so hard to solve and just take a breath.

If you feel stuck and aren’t sure what to do next, ask yourself, is this a problem of indecision or a problem of inspiration?

by Bettie Newell

Do you need to make some choices just so you keep moving forward on the path you have selected or do you need step away and take a break? To get my business rolling, I set deadlines, brought in a few people to assist me in areas where I was struggling, and tackled some of the more fun things on my to-do list (like updating my portfolio) while also chipping away at the tasks I’ve been avoiding. And while progress is still slower than I had originally envisioned, I’m actually working towards my goal.

To get my creative juices flowing and to help me look at what might be next, I spend quiet time each and every day. I don’t have a formal meditation practice, but I do sit by myself, without distractions. I usually have a paper and pen close by so I can take notes of inspirations. It’s a wonderfully productive and rejuvenating part of my routine. I also make sure to shoot every day, to continue to take note of the little things that I tend to miss because of my busyness.

And while I haven’t figured everything out yet, each day, each experience brings me closer to knowing what works for me and what brings me happiness. Each day I feel a little less stuck.

What about you? Do you experience stuckness in different ways? What strategies do you use to start moving again?

bettie newellBettie is a business lawyer and lifestyle photographer living in Portland, Oregon. An avid thrift shopper since she was 15 years old, Bettie loves all things vintage, red and polka dotted. She has two beautiful, sassy daughters, two tiny, ridiculous dogs, and one incredibly patient and supportive husband. With one half of her professional life, Bettie counsels businesses ranging from solo creative ventures to large corporations on all issues from start-up to dissolution. She spends the balance of her work time shooting portrait sessions (and the occasional wedding) with an emphasis on real moments and unique stories. You can visit her at

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10 Responses to Truthy Tuesday: Two Types of Stuckness & Two Ways to Get Moving Again

  1. Rachel says:

    Really helpful. Thank you!

  2. Michele says:

    While reading this is dawned on me how I’m almost in a state of paralysis-so afraid of moving forward.So afraid that whatever I decide to do might not be good enough or may be too weird for some. I’m working on a better self as I am realizing that much of my “fear” is really about a lack of self confidence. The good news is this is something I can do something about, and I have already begun taking steps.

  3. Kerry says:

    Love you, Bettie! I really like how you broke down two types of stuck and I couldn’t agree more. I totally have those things that just require me to check off the first thing on my todo list to get me going and other larger issues that seem to move forward once I slow down and have some quiet time. I recently started taking an art journaling class that requires me to get quiet and make art almost everyday. While taking this class I have come up with some artistic ideas that might lead me to opening my own Etsy shop. I am kind of blown away because I have spend years wishing I could combine my interest art and yoga and I think I might have found it. I am still struggling with some doubt and taking the right steps to get me where I want to go but I am a true believer that taking the time for yourself can lead to you being the person you want to be. Thanks for sharing this inspiring post and I wish you the best on your journey :) Hugs!

    • bettie says:

      Kerry, so exciting! I love it when inspiration strikes and you can find that place where everything comes together. Can’t wait to see what you are coming up with! xo

  4. Alyssa says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I find so much value in what you have shared here. I’m also a creative person who is starting up a business. It’s a funny dualism being creative and being a business owner, I find these two facets can hinder each at times, but can also compliment each other.

    As a business owner, for me, it’s all about to-do lists and getting up the motivation and courage to make decisions every day to propel things forward. As a creative person, I could not agree with you more about the need for taking time away from those pragmatic activities and doing something just for yourself, for fun!

    It’s challenging to balance these things- some days I just wanna read and take a walk and bake and feel that creative rush that comes from wandering and wondering. But I also have duties to fulfill to my business so I gotta pull myself away from those urges sometimes and work on that do-to list (which can be fun, but also scary as a new business owner)!

    I find that when I’m not feeling the courage or confidence to take on some of my practical business challenges, the energy I get from creative taks or interactions can help to boost me, and get me going again. By getting away from the desk, getting outside and into my community, talking to people, experiencing a sunny day etc. I become re-energized! Now I just need to consistently put this discovery into action…

    Congrats and good luck to you on your journey!

    • bettie says:

      Thank you, Alyssa! This is a real issue for creative people because we generally are not very good at the organized business stuff. I’m a big proponent of balance in all areas of life and I think we all benefit from walking that line a little more. It sounds like you are doing a good job of figuring all of that out. Best of luck to you!

  5. Ah, the creative life presents such conundrums but the rewards are great. Like knowing that when you’re old & grey, you’ll still have a mind that searches for the next project. Getting stuck is such a pain. I can relate all too well. That’s why i think blogging is so good – makes us less precious & perfectionistic. Lets us learn as we go & improve on what we do.

    I know someone who wants to paint but only if he can be brilliant. But he’ll never be brillant because he’s too petrified to pick up a brush. Another friend tells me when i get stuck, ‘just do it, don’t think’. If only it was that simple! Thinking is our friend & our foe!

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