To have a breakthrough, you must first be stuck.

It sounds obvious, but rarely do we think about it when we’re actually stuck in our lives. And this simple reality holds some serious hope if we can manage to reflect on it when we feel like we’re going nowhere. 

What got me thinking about this topic was my daily ritual of listening to the How I Built This podcast while walking my dog. Every episode is about 45 minutes long, so it’s the perfect length for me to get out of the house and out of my head for a bit, while Tyson gets some much needed exercise.

Guy Raz, the host, interviews founders of big, successful businesses, most of which we’ve all heard of – Burton Snowboards, Home Depot, Instagram, Patagonia, etc. What separates this podcast from other business podcasts I’ve listened to is Guy’s ability to prod the beginnings of the companies. If I had to guess, I’d say 90% or more of the show is dedicated to learning about the early days of the business, before it was the mega success that we know today.

And inevitably buried in these stories of the early years are countless moments of “being stuck.” From a lack of capital, to missteps in product development, to a lack of sales, to no one believing in the company or the entrepreneur, 100% of the founders interviewed were stuck, usually for months if not years, before they had a breakthrough.

It’s so easy to forget this truth in the throes of everyday life. There is no such thing as a steady climb to success.

No company has ever been built that way.

No relationship has ever grown that way.

No career has ever been shaped that way.

No goal has ever been accomplished that way.

Life is made up of fits and starts. It’s taking action and making progress, followed by making a misstep and stalling. It’s hiking up a hill only to find a plateau before the next climb begins. It’s losing weight only to stall before you reach your goal. It’s running out of money before your product is launched. It’s having your first blow up fight with someone you thought was perfect. This. Is. How. Life. Goes.

So why do we (I?) feel so hopeless when we get stuck? I wish I knew the answer. It could be impatience. It could be insecurity. It’s likely both.

But I do know the solution is not to wallow in the moment.

I’ve never heard an entrepreneur on How I Built This say “Everything changed for the better once I started feeling sorry for myself.” Nope, not once.

Instead, whenever they felt stuck, they took action.

They dug in more, not less. They looked for another window. They asked for another check. They knocked on another door. They went back to the drawing board. Instead of Why me? they asked Why not me? 

In short, they didn’t let getting stuck be the end of the story. They got back to work until finally…they had a breakthrough.

We’re not all guaranteed breakthroughs. But we never even have a shot at them if we lose hope or lose effort. To have a breakthrough, we have to keep going.

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