3 Things to Do When You Feel Like an Utter Failure

How to reach out for help when you're banging your head against a wall

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Over the years in my career, I’ve had times when I have been completely stuck, banging my head against the wall and feeling like an utter failure who just doesn’t have what it takes. Fortunately, every time I found myself in one of those places, I turned out to be wrong.

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As I pondered what was behind the turning points that led me out of those spots, I saw one common thread that always showed up: people. People who offered their assistance. People who shared insights and ideas. People who coached me and mentored me. People who booted me in the butt when I needed it.

I have written before about the importance of having a “support team” in your career. Today I want to take a look at some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way about reaching out for help and getting unstuck. Here are three important things to keep in mind:

Ask for help. Duh, right? But you would be amazed how often people stay bogged down in the belief that they should be able to figure it all out themselves. So, instead of injecting a fresh perspective or some external guidance, they flail around and sink further into the quicksand.

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If you find yourself going nowhere in your career, if you feel like the progress you’re making is far less than the effort you’re making, ask yourself, “What help do I need?” Where are your weak spots? Be honest. What is keeping you stuck? Then ask, “Who can help me there?” Finally (and most importantly), reach out and ask.

Be willing to be vulnerable. Reaching out and asking for help puts you in an inherently vulnerable position. You’re saying, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to get past this.” Sometimes it can be tempting to reduce the resulting discomfort by pretending that you know more than you do, or that you don’t feel as uncertain as you really are. But if you’re going to get any real value out of reaching out for help, you have to let yourself be vulnerable. You have to take off the mask. You have to be real. Without that, the effectiveness of the help you can get will be limited. It’s like trying to find the answer to a question, but not being willing to reveal the fact that you don’t know the answer.

The truth is that uncertainty and doubt and the occasional feeling of cluelessness come with the territory, especially if you are doing something that stretches you. It’s part of the human experience – so don’t try to pretend you’re not human.

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Shut up and listen. Once you tell someone what you’re having a challenging time with and ask for their feedback or ideas, sit back and shut up. Listen to what they have to say. You may feel resistance to some of it. You may want to explain something away, or justify things. Don’t. Just listen, take notes, and soak up their perspective.

Take people’s ideas and insights and sit with them. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to bite my tongue while listening to advice that I didn’t really want to hear, only to realize later that it was exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes it was about some action I didn’t really want to take. Other times it was calling me on something I was doing to get in my way that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

The help you need won’t always be the help you want, and it won’t always feel good. But in the long run, whether it feels like sweet relief or a bitter pill, it’s always better than staying stuck until you decide that it’s time to quit.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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