I got stuck this past week. Twice.
Two unrelated things happened. Both left me feeling out of control and unable to unravel the twisty-turny, thorn-ridden mess before me.
First up: the next learning achievement in my PhD program. The assignment is a literature search that sounded like it would be straightforward enough, but turns out to be a bear of a project. The problem that I’m having, though, is that I love to explore and, given the vast amount of extant literature, I get embroiled in distractions, each one potentially sending me in a slightly new direction. I’m like the lost wanderer standing at a crossroads, but each time I think I’ve made my decision I suddenly see another road opening up and I think “That might be an interesting path to poke around for a while…..” After all—endless curiosity is a boon, isn’t it? I like to think so, but my husband, less kindly, thinks I need to focus. Perhaps he’s right: too many paths definitely leave me feeling lost and, as I said, a bit out of control.
I’m starting to get through it, though, by asking myself questions like, “What’s here that is interesting?” and “What nugget is most important to me?” Those questions (and similar ones) are helping me get beyond the pile of articles, books, and the odd-and-sundry charts and graphs that litter my office floor (many of which lead down still-unexplored paths). Questions become the Geiger counter I hope will uncover the precious metal that will illuminate my ideas.
My second “stuck” experience, completely unrelated, had to do with my healthcare coverage. This episode involved a particular medication I’d been taking for a couple of years, a compounded regimen that has improved my bone health exponentially. Up until the end of 2013 our healthcare provider covered the prescription. But with all of the health care policy changes we were switched to a new plan, one that no longer covered my prescription. My doctor and I sought an alternative, finding one that was as close as I could get to my original prescription; I bought a three-month supply, most of which was covered by insurance.
When I attempted to renew, I was told that our insurance had decided to drop that prescription and that there were no other formulations that mapped to what I had been taking–generic or otherwise. Let’s just say, I was frustrated, confused, and angry; I felt like I had no control in the situation and was, well, stuck.
After taking deep, cleansing breaths to calm my mind, I thought…”Is there a question I can ask, something that will help sharpen my focus on solving this particular problem?”
Our pharmacy is the small-town, locally-owned kind where “everybody knows your name.” They provide personalized service and are open to exploring options. So my husband and I dropped in on a snowy Saturday. The pharmacists and his assistants greeted us and we launched into our story—and our question. “What,” we asked, “might be our options?”
The pharmacist (dear, dear man) called us into a small consultation room and began to pick away at his computer while writing numbers on a piece of scratch paper. It turned out that one of our options—one we’d never considered to ask about—was not going through insurance at all. And, believe it or not, that option meant that I could go back to my original prescription which, when the insurance company’s computer system remained uninvolved, would costs us less than half of what we used to pay merely as a co-pay. (Don’t get me started, by the way, on how ludicrous that sounds.)
I was thrilled and surprised. And unstuck.
Getting stuck is a human condition; we can easily get caught up in what’s not possible to the point of clouding the possibilities that do exist. I have found that when I’m able to push through the cloud enough to ask questions—even a question that, on the surface, might not seem like it makes much sense—doors swing open to reveal a new view of the situation.
We all get stuck at some point. The quality of our questions can pave the way to insights that we never thought possible.
What types of questions help you get unstuck?