Stuck! Seven Lessons from Life in the Ditch

by Andy Wood on November 24, 2017

in Ability, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Cycle, LV Stories, Principle of Freedom, Protecting Your Investment, Turning Points

It’s been more than 40 years, but the scene hasn’t changed all that much.  Downhill run, dirt road, just north of the family farm.  Back in the day I was driving my Granddaddy’s pickup and my grandmother was in the passenger seat. I don’t remember the occasion, but most likely we had taken Lucy or Dot or some other domestic help back to their house, and we were headed back.

Just as I cruised down the dirt road, flexing my pride in the manly art of driving, the pickup slipped off the road into a shallow little ditch.

“Ditch” is too harsh a word.  More like a little soft trough where rain water would gently ease down the hill. Really wasn’t that big a deal.

“Oh, no, we’re stuck,” Grandmother said immediately.

Ridiculous!  It wasn’t deep, we were doing downhill, and all I had to do was give it a little gas, turn the wheel, and…

Well crud.  We were stuck.

We both knew what that meant. I would need to trudge back home and get Granddaddy to bring the tractor and chain to pull us out.  We weren’t that far from the house, but it always seemed to amuse him when I got one of his vehicles stuck.  And yes, it happened more than once.


He got the chain and Old Blue, his 1964 Ford tractor, drove to where the truck was and pulled us out. It was a pretty straightforward operation.

I’ve been thinking about the experience quite a bit lately because it’s a metaphor for where I have found myself often. I have also had the joy of working with lots of people through the years who have found themselves stuck.

In their lives.

In their work.

In their relationships.

And that experience from my teenage years serves as a gift that keeps on giving today. Here are some lessons learned:

1. Just because you say you aren’t stuck doesn’t change the fact that you are.

“We’re not stuck!” I said my best teenage cocky voice.

That didn’t change the fact that we were.

No amount of horsepower, maneuvering, or denying it could change the reality of the situation.

Same is true in the areas where you’re stuck. You can deny it, resist it, pretend you know better than the situation. You can burn up a lot of gas and sling plenty of life-mud, but stuck means stuck and requires a different strategy if you want things to change.

2. Stuck is no respecter of persons.

I was driving an early-70s Ford F-150 two-wheel-drive pickup. I could have been driving a Ferrari, a Chevy, a station wagon, or a race car. I’d still have been stuck.  Maybe something bigger would have navigated the situation better, but I doubt it.

The point is, it wasn’t the vehicle’s fault that it couldn’t move. Most any other vehicle would have suffered the same fate.

The other point is that you aren’t immune.  Nobody since Noah has avoided the experience of getting to a point in their lives where their wheels were spinning but they were going nowhere. That is not a reflection on you. Everybody gets stuck somehow, sooner or later. You’re no exception. In fact, the only people who never get stuck are the ones who aren’t trying to go anywhere. Which leads to…

3.  There is no shame in admitting you’re stuck.

My knee-jerk reaction was to avoid admitting the obvious. It was humbling. Embarrassing a little. So I wanted to pretend I could fix what I had obviously steered my way into.

The two least shaming people that day were my grandparents. Neither of them fussed at me for getting in the ditch to start with. Know why? They’d been there multiple times themselves. They got it.

Now if my shame had made me so stubborn that I kept pretending I didn’t have a problem, they may have reacted differently. But the truth was that we were going nowhere until I admitted I couldn’t fix things by myself.

I wish some pastors I know could figure that out.  Some parents, too. I wish some business owners could recognize that “where they is is where they is.” And if where they is is stuck, they’re stuck.

4. There is no getting unstuck without asking for help.

And herein lies the rub.  Some people just don’t want to do that.

Frankly I hate having to ask for help. It really messes with my pride. So if I ever ask you for any, you’ll know I’ve exhausted all my self-help strategies.

But the very fact that you’re stuck means you aren’t the solution to the problem.

I should probably repeat that.

The very fact that you’re stuck means you aren’t the solution to the problem.  Somebody else is.

5. Not all help is the same.

When you find yourself in the ditch, there are a multitude of possibilities of people who can help you.

Or try to help you.

Or pretend they can help you.

Or take advantage of you in the name of helping you.

It takes some discernment to know who you can trust. But in those situations, look for three things: character, competence, and concern.  Are they honest? Do they know what they’re doing? And are they first concerned with your needs? Those people can help you… some in an instant, others over a course of time.

6. People who are stuck don’t need advice – they need traction.

When I hit the ditch, I didn’t need advice on ditch management or even driving. It was pretty obvious what I had done wrong. I also didn’t need advice on how to get out of the mud.  What I needed was somebody with a little horsepower who could anchor themselves on dry road, hopefully with tires that could hold their own while they towed me back onto the road.

In helping others, I have learned that my advice and a buck-fifty gets me something from Starbucks, and that’s about it. Most of the time people don’t need me to tell them what to do – they need me to give them the motivation, encouragement, strength, and hope to do the next right thing. They need clarity. Communication. Courage. And some collaboration. That will give them the traction they need to know the next right step.

7. It doesn’t matter if you’re out of the ditch if you don’t know where you’re going.

Know what would have been nuts? If my granddaddy had pulled us back on the road, drove the tractor back to the shed, and we had just sat there, unstuck but unmoving. Or if we wound up wandering aimlessly around. Heck, that’s just another version of stuck.

(Lesson: Not all stuck people are motionless.)

I have seen my share of people get freed from some form of addiction, the most ruthless form of stuck, only to flounder with life in general.

I have seen people escape the clutches of that dead-end job, only to wind up slogging through another one.

I have seen people jump from one unhealthy relationship to another, freed for a season only to drift back into a relational mess.

If getting stuck offers any benefits, it is that it offers us the opportunity to clarify where we want to go in the first place.  But only if you’re intentional about it. If your only desire is to get out of the mud, you may as well stay there.  You’re not truly free until you’re headed in the right direction.


If you find your wheels spinning in a flurry of activity but don’t find yourself actually going anywhere, maybe it’s time to admit the obvious. And maybe it’s time to reach out to someone who can give you the traction you need to get moving again in the right direction.


Andy Wood specializes in getting himself stuck and helping other people get unstuck and find traction in their personal growth, professional success, and relationships. For more information about how Andy’s professional coaching can help you get where you’re going, contact him at [email protected].

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