From time to time, everyone feels a bit lost in life. Whether you’re trying something new, unraveling a particularly challenging problem, or not sure what should happen next, we’ve all experienced that nauseating feeling of uncertainty. It can feel like you’re stuck in a giant maze without a map. While the right answer may not be clear, there are simple steps you can take to begin the process of getting unstuck.
Perhaps you’re trying to solve a problem you’ve never experienced before, or you’re just starting out in a new role. It’s natural to become overly concerned with the missing information. However, fixating on the unknowns rarely helps bring clarity to the situation. Instead, start first by identifying what you do know. What part of the problem/situation is clear? Do you have an accurate grasp on the core issue?
Next, start to expand the list of “knowns.” Identify key contacts that may be able to provide some clarity or additional data on the topic. Start reaching out to knowledgeable colleagues or contacts that can confirm if your understanding is accurate. From there, you can also begin asking for help filling in the list of unknowns. Build hypotheses and test those mental hypotheses with each contact along the way. They may be able to provide additional information or uncover more details as you brainstorm the topic together.
From there, begin branching out to new contacts. Ask who else might be able to provide additional details or context on the topic. Don’t be afraid to make introductions and be honest about your need for support. Admitting you’re lost can be a bit intimidating, but it’s the fastest way to engage help. Worry less about appearing uninformed, and instead focus on the fastest path to becoming fully competent about the situation.
Prepare yourself that the process of solving a novel problem (or learning something new) is rarely a straight path. Instead, expect that you’ll need to go back and double-check for understanding. It can be helpful to prepare your contacts/colleagues as well. Try saying, “I really appreciate the help you’ve offered so far. I still need to track down some additional information, but would you mind if I ran my ideas past you again as I learn more?” This keeps the door open for future conversations and makes it clear that you value both their time and knowledge.
Finally, when you’re engaging with a knowledgeable person, don’t forget to ask simple open-ended questions like, “Is there anything I haven’t asked yet that I should be asking?” and “Can you think of anyone else who might have a perspective to offer?”
Feeling lost is a humbling experience, but solving the maze and finding your path to the solution can be incredibly rewarding. Give yourself time and grace through the process, and be confident that if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll get unstuck in no time.