“I feel trapped.”

It’s not an uncommon statement to hear from clients. They feel trapped in relationships that are not healthy and sometimes are even dangerous. They feel trapped in jobs they hate or houses they can’t sell. They are too old or have too many children. Mostly, they feel trapped in a life they know does not work for them but are unable to imagine that anyting could be different.

That’s one of the reasons I found this story from Gail Sheehy so powerful.

Turnaround at midlife

Change is always possible. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy or fast. It does mean that it’s possible.

So how do you step out of being trapped?

1) Allow for the possibility that you are not trapped. Sometimes the trapped feeling is an old one left over from childhood when you truly could not escape your parents’ beatings or ridicule. You may have to remind yourself that you are not 9 years old. You have options and you have a choice as to what options you pursue. You may not like the consequences of some of those options, but you do have them.

2) Start small. You are not going to reinvent your life, create a new family, establish a new career or lose 55 pounds all at once. I’m sorry. When I find that magic wand you will be the first to know. I promise.

In the meantime, start by doing one thing differently. Maybe it’s taking a walk after dinner instead of watching “Wheel of Fortune.” (Sorry, Vanna.) Or maybe it’s stopping yourself when you start beating yourself up. Maybe it’s not hanging out with that friend who always puts you down – and talks you into things you know aren’t good for you. Or maybe it’s allowing yourself to begin asking what kind of life you want to have. Where do you want to be? What do you want to do? Most importantly, who do you want to be?

3) Get support. We all need cheerleaders. Limit your time with people who tell you all of the reasons why you can’t succeed and start listening to people who tell you that you can, whether it’s your best friend, sister, boss or Oprah Winfrey.

If you need to, get professional support. You may need to work with a counselor to sort through old beliefs that have been keeping you stuck. You may need to sign up for a group training program to help you stay accountable. Before you start telling me that you can’t possibly afford such things, let me say that I have seen people of very few resources but very great determination find a way. You can too.

4) Take the long view. Periodically remind yourself of where you’re headed. Right now I’m working on one of my goals, training for a marathon. Several times a week I watch videos of last year’s race on you Tube. I picture myself crossing the finish line. I imagine the feeling of accomplishment (and exhaustion!) I picture my post race photo being taken in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Focusing on that picture helps me keep putting one foot in front of the other when the miles are long and the legs are tired.

5) Find inspiration. Isntead of reading about the latest Hollywood gossip or NFL fantasy draft, spend time reading the stories of people who have made significant changes and done great things. Let them be your teachers. Let them inspire you.

People sometimes ask me if I think people can change. I wouldn’t be doing the work I do if I didn’t know that it was possible. Whether or not you can change will be up to you.


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