How to Stay Unstuck

in_a_jarI’m looking back on the past 43 years of working for paychecks and feeling like I just walked out of jail.

It wasn’t a bad career. At times it was meteoric. But it wasn’t easy and I struggled many times. I was freelance, hopping from project to project, never knowing when and from where the work would come. And the stress never let up – not between jobs, not inside the jobs, never…until today, when that other ME retired.

This morning, June 7th, I cleared out my office on the Warner Brothers lot and at twelve noon, I stopped the clock. Not since college have I given myself permission to float in bliss without concerns for tomorrow. Because tomorrow will no longer be a day of unemployment, or counting the weeks before a project ends and again I’m out of a job. Tomorrow I will no longer be asking,

Have I worked enough, acquired enough, impressed enough? Am I good enough?

Or am I fooling myself? Maybe I’ll never rest. Unhitched now from movie credits, where will I find meaning in Act Three, the rest of my life? Having changed course, where is my destination? Will I find happiness getting there?

In other words, with money issues out of the way, what do I want now? It’s time to ask again, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MY LIFE?

For that matter, what is the purpose of yours? Are you happy about where your journey is taking you? If not, can you see through the fog to rewrite it?

You can’t?

Okay. Are you stuck then, not knowing what you want?

You are?

In that case, this is where Emma Coats Writing Basic #9 comes in.

When you get stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times, the material to get you unstuck will show up.


Of course, this is about building a plot and knitting an unexpected tale while maintaining plausibility. That takes a lot of thought. Any writer will tell you to throw out your first five notions of what comes next. They’re too predictable.

But in the real world, can we…no, SHOULD we, apply uncertain novelty to life’s decisions? When thinking about a course for our personal futures should we focus on practical, income-producing endeavors (like a steady job in programming), or follow whimsical dreams seeking serendipity surprises and changes?

Which one – certainty or uncertainty?

Choosing one or the other depends on the type of disposition we have. Some people need structure and boundaries. Others demand freedom and change. But beyond working for income, when it comes to a career, what do we actually want?

For me, getting rich was never a priority. Creative expression was tops. And to do that, I wanted both surprise and certainty. I couldn’t have both and I never felt comfortable with freelance work. Still, I loved the spontaneity of meeting new people on every movie with a different set of challenges. It was a trade-off I didn’t want, but had to make.

man_with_dollarsSo continuous income never happened. But looking back I realize now the stress of waiting for work and then scrambling to meet outrageous demands helped me to grow –not tougher, but more sensitive and aware. To stay sane in an all-or-nothing business where egos do battle for all the wrong reasons, I had to learn to cope. I had to discover the tools for dealing with frightened, mean, or condescending humans. I learned to take the pain when I got hit and deal with disappointment when I missed the mark or it missed me.

Today brought an end to all that. Now what?

Do I want more drama? No. But do I need it? Is the challenge to survive what life is about? With no winners and losers, does passion die, along with interest? Or am I totally over thinking this?


Oh boy, I’m skidding into sticky confusion. I need another look at Emma’s guide # 9.

When you get stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Okay, to find out what I want now, here’s my list of what will never happen again.


  1. Feeling like I’m unemployed when I’m in between jobs.
  2. Spending weeks, no months, looking for projects knowing my success rate is five percent.
  3. Making cold calls and pretending I’m charming.
  4. Feigning respect and gratitude when in fact, I’m avoiding jerks just to finish the job.
  5. Losing sleep, worrying about where I’ll find my next gig.
  6. Losing sleep, worrying about where I’ll find time to finish the gig.
  7. Supporting the people who hired me when their project sucks and they won’t let me fix it.
  8. Working solely for a paycheck.
  9. Driving two hours a day to and from work.
  10. Returning home so late and bushed that all I want to do is drink down my frustrations and hit the sack.
  11. Redoing the work of the people I hired.
  12. Wasting precious time pursuing an unworkable end so my boss can see his idea was stupid from the start.
  13. Getting something to finally work and handing the credit to someone else.
  14. Working sixteen-hour days for last minute changes and mumbling “That’s okay,” because the higher-ups won’t take responsibility for unpaid overtime.
  15. Transferring my frustration into an unmotivated argument with my wife.
  16. Chasing a check when Payroll misses it.
  17. Seeing my name on movie credits and thinking, “That’s nice. But this isn’t what I wanted to do.”

What does this list tell me? It tells me I put up with tons of bad stuff. And yet, there must have been enough good stuff to keep me doing it for 43 years.

What was the good stuff? Simple. It was helping others and getting their thank you’s. That happened more than it didn’t.

But I’m out of the movie business. What else will turn me on?

If I project the opposite condition onto my NOT-WANT list, specifically numbers 7, 11, 12, 13 & 17, I can figure it out what needs to happen next. Humm… This must be what I want:

To successfully work for myself on my own projects and then do or make things people appreciate.

Okay. That’s not much different from what I wanted while working. Which means…my new mission is still my old one. Gosh. Guess it’s my life’s purpose.

Is it yours too? Is that why you work? To make a difference? To make contributions of value appreciated by others? To have validated significance?

That’s probably you, and you’re not alone. Gratitude is why you do what you do, with or without remuneration. You need to have meaning in life, to have benchmarks of growth, to push past boundaries and set new records, to leave a legacy. And you might as well strive for all that while you’re making a living. So you do.

We all want to MATTER and we work very hard to make it happen. When it doesn’t, we’re not happy.

Sorry people, but I just realized you can’t back out of battles and remain whole. Challenges grow meaning. And that applies to me too. My NOT-WANT list will soon be replaced by a new set of hurdles and although I’m happy resting in today’s bliss, it’s just a pit stop. Tomorrow I’ll be back in the race.

Going, growing – going, growing… It’s what we do to stay unstuck.


Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.


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