Ask Unstuck: My dream seems unreachable

September 6, 2013

When Joel wrote to us with his stuck moment, we were so awed by all that he’s done in his 43 years that we needed to take a step back to see what the issue really is.

Before finishing his PhD in economics, he spent five adventurous years at sea and three years abroad as a researcher. In graduate school, he worked with an engineering friend to create and sell a computer-controlled router that cuts shapes and patterns. And now, he’s gainfully employed as an economist in New Delhi. Impressive!

The thing is, Joel doesn’t like his economic work. He dreams of returning to the U.S. to buy back his tools and start a furniture-making business. At first blush, it sounds like he took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. And maybe he did, but that’s not what has him stranded in India. It’s more a case of acting like a Lone Leader, believing that he needs to make everything happen, without error, by himself. Of course he’s overwhelmed. We would be, too.

Clearly, Joel, you’re a capable guy. Often, it’s the most capable who get stuck this way. Because we’ve accomplished so much, we feel we have to carry the full load. And if we don’t, well, there must be something wrong with us. That stops us from getting the help we need to move forward. And we all need it. For instance:

• Love her or hate her, Martha Stewart accepted Sharon Patrick’s assistance to break away from Time Inc. and build her own empire. 
• Technology trailblazer Steve Jobs didn’t create the first Apple computer. His partner Steve Wozniak did.
• Oprah Winfrey recently struggled to make her OWN channel on the Discovery network a success. To draw viewership, she turned to her friend and playwright Tyler Perry, who now produces two shows on OWN, putting the channel in the black.
• And dig this quote from Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam: “I’ve been blessed to find people who are smarter than I am, and they help me to execute the vision I have.”

It tears us up, Joel, to think of you longing for something 8,000 miles from where you want to be. So we bluntly but lovingly say to you: Find the people you need to help you get the job done.

If it’s pride or shyness that stops you, consider these five surprising benefits of asking for help. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Your primary task right now is to figure out what and who you need. Once you start, you’ll be amazed and relieved. Your wish will start to feel tangible. And the more you chip away at that looming ball of must-do’s and can’t-do’s, the more energized you’ll become.

The Unstuck app has a tool especially for Lone Leaders: Call in the Cavalry. It helps you organize your thoughts into actionable items. If you don’t have the app handy (you can download the free iPad app here), here’s how it works.

Think about and list the different kinds of help you need. Do you need an adviser? An expert? An organizer? A partner? Consider your needs from other perspectives as well, like:

• Intellectual help for idea-generation, problem-solving, devil’s advocate
• Emotional help to listen and cheer you on
• Practical help so you can delegate administrative tasks.

Then, for each item on your list (it doesn’t have to be a long one), write down how that person can help, and rate it as helpful, important, or essential. Go back a third time and write the names of people you know who could fill the roles. If you don’t have a name just yet, leave it blank for now. Finally, reorder your list with the essential help at the top, followed by the important help, followed by the helpful help. This is your prioritized action plan.

If names are missing from the essential help, your first to-do is to uncover people for those roles. Then reach out to them and get the ball rolling.

You may feel stuck finding the right people. Make this a completely temporary moment. We all have friends who seem to know everyone. Make him your first call or email to ask if he knows of anyone. There also are plenty of digital networks you can tap into. Mashable offers a list of 10 social networks for entrepreneurs. You could also try furniture-making groups like Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers. You might even find people with good advice on

Joel, we’re excited for you. And confident that you have the determination to make more great things happen in the world — with a little help from your friends.

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