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feeling stuckI recently received an email from a young person expressing a really common problem.  They were gracious enough to agree to have our discussion posted here so that others in similar situations might benefit.

Hi Ms. Harrington,

 Honestly I don’t know where to begin to I apologize in advance for the rambling…
For a while now I’ve just lost all motivation. I graduated high school about 3 years ago, had my college years and everything all planned out. I went away to school and something in me changed. I fell into (what I believe) was a bit of a depression. I didn’t get out of bed or leave my room for that matter. I barely ate unless I ordered in with the few friends I made. It was like a living nightmare I just didn’t want to be there or anywhere for that matter. I ended up flunking out of school and going back home. I decided maybe I just got homesick and decided to try school a little closer to home, in the city where I graduated (not the same as where my family was). I went there and again I feel into a slump, and flunked out. 
Now I’m home and the feeling just feels worse and worse. I never want to leave the house, the only friends I do have are miles away and even if they were close I wouldn’t do much with them. I have no motivation to continue school, even though I know that’s what it takes to be somewhat successful. I honestly can’t imagine much of a future for myself, I have no idea where I want to be in my life. I’ve tried talking to my mom, but she just tells me I need to do something. I can assure you I’m not suicidal by any means, but I just don’t have a purpose. 
I don’t know what to do. i came across your blog and read a few of your post and you seemed easy to talk to :). Any advice or suggestions would be MORE than appreciated. I just need a start because I feel like if I keep going on like this, I won’t have much of a life….
My response:
     Hi There, 

(Prepare yourself for my rambling response). 
It sounds like it’s been a rough couple of years for you.  First, I have to tell you that you are not alone.  I see so many people your age struggling with these same type of issues.  College is a tough time – suddenly you are expected to know what you want AND how to get it.  That’s hard.  
Purpose is one of those elusive things in life.  We all have to find it for ourselves.  No one else can define it for you.  And, what gives your friends a sense of purpose may leave you completely empty.  It’s definitely NOT one-size-fits-all.  Figuring out what will give our own life meaning is one of the central questions we each struggle with.
It took me well into my 30s before I could fully answer this question myself.  I tried a number of careers – everything from working for a stock broker to developing curriculum – before I finally discovered my real passion.  So, that’s my first piece of advice for you: remember that life is full of “do-overs”.  You don’t have to get it right the first time.  Or the second.  As long as you keep trying.  Be willing to say “this isn’t right for me” and keep looking until you find what IS right for you.
We all get stuck sometimes.  And we can use that “stuck” time to our advantage.  It provides space for reflection and exploration. It can allow us to slow down enough to really think.  Even when it feels like we are doing absolutely nothing but watching reruns or browsing pinterest, our minds are busy.  So, here’s my second piece of advice: Give yourself time.  Life is a marathon – not a sprint.  Take a little time to figure out what feels important to you.  Use this time when you feel unmotivated to explore – read, think, reflect on your values.  Figure out what kind of life appeals to you?  What do you want to remembered for? How would you like people to describe you when you are 50? Don’t try to force a decision right now – just entertain a whole lot of possibilities and find the ones that excite you.
And when all that reflection gets overwhelming, put it aside and do something for someone else.  A great way to keep from cycling downward when we feel blue is to reach out.  So, I challenge you to find someone – person, organization, whatever – who could use some help.  And jump in.  Doing something for others will help you keep your own life in perspective.  
So, a recap:  
1. Don’t worry about making the “right” choice.  You can always change your mind.
2. Use your “stuck” time to your advantage by reflecting and exploring.  
3. Reach outside of yourself – help someone else.
If none of this seems to help or it continues to feel overwhelming, it might be time to talk to someone.  Therapy can help with the reflecting process and can give you that little extra push to help you put one foot in front of the other. 
Please feel free to email me.  I’d love to know how you are doing.
To all the other kids out there who share these feelings, know that you are not alone.  You are not flawed in any way.  Life will get better and you will find your way.  Give these suggestions a try.  If you are feeling  lost and overwhelmed, please find someone you can talk to about it.  Most of all, don’t give up!  There is hope and there is help.