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Seven States of Being Stuck

Keith Yamashita is the hot item right now in advising corporations that have hit a brick wall.  He is a 37-year-old principal in a business consulting firm on the West Coast known as Stone Yamashita Partners.  His skill has been in identifying structural and systemic problems in a company or its leaders. His firm has spent time working with some of America’s leading corporations.  He is also the author of a new book written with Sandra Spataro called Unstuck. His book identifies seven states of being seriously stuck and talks about action plans to get moving forward.  The states described by Yamashita, not only apply to corporations, but can also be viewed as applying to individuals.  The states of stuck are:

(1) Overwhelmed – too much going on not enough people or time

(2) Exhausted – paralysis caused by burnout.

(3) Directionless – no big picture.

(4) Hopeless – the passion is gone and there is a lack of purpose.

(5)  Battle-torn – work has become a state of siege.

(6) Worthless – there is no system for measuring success.

(7) Alone – you’re not in sync with those you have to work with.

As a systems thinker, Yamashita views an organization from an overall standpoint.  Purpose is at the center of the organization.  Outside it he identifies five key factors: strategy, culture, people and interaction, metrics and rewards, and structure and process.  Yamashita believes that a company gets stuck when one of these components is out of balance.  Yamashita says, “There is no voodoo to how to get unstuck.  It’s about taking actions everyday in a sensible way with a little bit of creativity and invention.”

Let’s look at the seven states outlined by Yamashita as they might apply to an individual.

(1) Overwhelmed.  This is a frequent feeling expressed by lawyers.  It is important to realize that we experience time in different ways.  I can sit in an hour-long meeting and feel pressured by other things going on in my life and emerge from the meeting exhausted.  Another person can sit in that meeting and feel at ease and not pressured at all through the one-hour experience.  When there’s a feeling of being overwhelmed by too much to do and not enough time, it is not only important to address seeing if time is being spent productively and is well organized, but also being sure that one has the opportunity to get in the right mental framework to enjoy one’s experience of time.  We all benefit at certain times from the experience of being pressured to get things done; however, living in a pressured environment over an extended period degrades the quality of the time experience.  We are apt to be living in a low grade stress response which negatively affects our immune systems and attitude.  How we experience the quality of our time has more to do with our attitude than anything else.  Some people need extended periods of uninterrupted time to feel that they are working effectively.  Others do better if they have a number of different things going on and are able to move fairly rapidly from one item to the next.  Because we differ in how we enjoy our experience of time, it is important to understand what your needs are so that you can set effective boundaries for the use of your time and have a positive and enjoyable attitude toward your experience.

(2) Exhausted.  The process of exhaustion comes about from working long hours and not balancing other experiences necessary for wholeness.  These include the need for exercise, the need for good nutrition, the need for positive social interaction with friends and nurturing one’s spiritual life.  What happens when working long hours, one begins to short these other important activities in life and feel too tired to undertake them. Then there is a tendency to indulge in things to make one feel emotionally better, such as overeating or overuse of alcohol, without meeting the underlying needs that are required to lead a more balanced life.  The lawyer may then fall into a vicious trap feeling he deserves something more from life, his spouse, his practice because he has failed to be assertive in getting his needs met directly.

(3) Directionless.  We are meaning-seeking creatures.  In order for our lives to have meaning, in order for long hours of work to feel worthwhile, there must be purpose to what we’re doing.  One aspect of losing meaning in life can be that we often do not take into account that our purpose in life can, and will over time, change.  What may have seemed a satisfying purpose when we first started practicing law may, over time, become unfulfilling, because the manner in which law is being practiced has become inconsistent with a new purpose that has grown within us.  Or the purpose itself simply has become lost through lack of focus on the reason for what we’re doing.  Either way, the lack of a solid committed purpose to one’s life is a real hindrance to having a healthy and enjoyable life.  This may be particularly true for a lawyer’s life because of the time commitment practicing law requires.

(4) Hopeless.  Sometimes what we have passion for changes. We run out of juice and excitement for what we have been doing.  This can be a disconcerting experience.  If one is unable to perceive that this is happening, depression can be the result.  Having passion about what one is doing in life derives from having purpose, but not just any kind of purpose.  If the purpose is hollow for us, eventually the passion goes.  Somehow the purpose must be connected to a way of growing more fully into who one is.  Often a state of hopelessness occurs when one finds that he or she is not really cut out for the type of law practice that he or she initially began, or practicing law does not seem to be a way one can continue to grow.

(5) Battle-torn.  There are times, of course, in all our lives when we have to battle away to establish a practice or to develop expertise in a particular area where we wish to practice.  However, long-term sieges are very hard on one’s physical and emotional health.  If one feels like one is living in a state of siege because of the conditions in one’s firm or the conditions in one’s practice, change is absolutely necessary.  Central to that change is going back to what will provide purpose to this stage of the lawyer’s life and what will provide passion for that purpose.

(6) Worthlessness.  All too often, we tend to measure our work by how much our income is.  If all one is doing is just going through the motions of practicing law, no matter how much is being made, it is possible for the lawyer to feel that his life is worthless.  The things that are going to add the greatest sense of worth to a lawyer’s life are often those things that happen by his contributions to his church or community, in capacities which respect him as a lawyer but are really non-legal capacities.  Avoiding a sense of worthlessness means assuring that your life’s purpose is devoting time to the spiritual and emotional goals which give meaning to your life.  There’s also the situation of lawyers who are working hard, but not making a sufficient income to reflect their effort and expertise.  In such a case, the lawyer needs to be making more money and the answer here is often about how clients are billed, how rates are set, how one avoids getting problem clients and how one recognizes and fires troublesome clients.  This is an issue that involves good office management, something that many lawyers are not skilled in and that is often an area where outside help can be extremely beneficial.

(7) Alone.  Isolation is the germination ground for depression and the misuse of alcohol and other substances of abuse.  Solo practitioners here have a special burden.  Particularly those practitioners who are not involved in a courtroom practice and are not with their peers and associates each day in the courthouse.  We, as lawyers, are a part of a community, and it is important for us to be sure that there is time which we spend with our fellow lawyers each day.  For the solo practitioner, this can mean such things as planning ahead to have lunch with other lawyers or a greater participation in Bar social events.  Some lawyers find that it is more satisfying to them to develop social networks outside of law and that these provide satisfying ways to avoid the sense of isolation in one’s work.  Regardless, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Often, it occurs in large firms, where people are so busy they have little time for social interaction that has any depth and quality to it.  In such cases, it will take a concerted effort to be sure that positive social relations have a chance to develop and grow either in or outside the firm on a daily basis.

The interesting thing about Yamashita’s book is his conclusion that whatever the state of stuckness, it is relatively easy to develop a plan to become unstuck.  I like his terminology.  We can all relate to the idea of being stuck.  There is a physical quality to it.  The good thing is that we do not have to even understand exactly why we’re stuck or how we fit into any of the categories that Yamashita has suggested.  It is enough to be aware when stuckness is in the picture.  Working with a good counselor around this stuckness can be an effective way to develop an action plan to get unstuck.  Once the problem is defined, it is usually not that hard to develop a solution.  We tend to remain stuck when the problem is ill-defined, or our consciousness of being stuck is dim.  This may be the prelude to depression.  The first step of getting unstuck is to surrender your need to think you know all your own answers.  The second step is to be able to talk with someone you trust and work through the issues and define what the problem really is.  The solution will follow.

– by Don Carroll

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