How to Find New Solutions When You're Feeling Stuck

Four words that make a big difference.

Welcome to One Thing Better. Each week, the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine (that's me) shares one way to be more successful and satisfied — and build a career or company you love.

Today’s one thing: Something isn’t working.

That one thing, better: Something else will.

Made with DALL-E

You’ve hit a wall.

Maybe you had an idea, but it won’t work. You asked for something, but were rejected. You tried something, and it failed.

Now you feel stuck and frustrated.

Today, I’ll give you a simple way to move forward. Because this is not the end. You just need to ask yourself an important question.

But before I give you that question, I’ll show you how this mode of thinking helped me graduate college. 

Because I almost didn’t graduate... until someone asked the right question.

The last-semester blues

I was supposed to graduate from Clark University in 2002. But as my final semester began, I realized something bad: I hadn’t finished all the requirements for my English major.

It was an oversight! The English department required students to take a certain number of courses in different categories — and I was one short in one category. Even worse: In that final semester, the department offered zero classes in that category.

“Can you just waive the requirement?” I asked the department chair.

“No,” she said. “You haven’t completed your education. You can just graduate next semester.”

That’s when I freaked out. I ran to my faculty advisor, a professor named Heather Roberts. “I need to graduate,” I told her. “What can I do?”

She thought about it for a bit, and then...

The solution to “what you can’t do”

Let’s hit pause on the college story for a moment. Instead…

Now the year is 2005. Kara Goldin and her husband Theo were making a lightly flavored, all-natural beverage in their kitchen. They called it Hint Water, and they thought it had potential.

But when they tried to mass-produce the drink, they hit a problem. Here’s a scene from Kara’s book, called Undaunted:

Everyone in the business told us we would have to use preservatives or other chemicals to ensure the product had a reasonable shelf life. I refused to make that compromise. I asked Theo to research the issue and, after weeks of phone calls and visits to other bottlers, he told me, “There’s no way to get the taste you want and still have enough shelf life to distribute this product around the country.” 

Theo assumed this was the end of our young project. I wasn’t willing to quit so easily. 

“Well, what can we do?” I asked. 

“We can have a product with a very short shelf life that we deliver locally out of our Jeep in a limited area in San Francisco.” 

“Perfect, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll find out what people think of the product and if it’s worth trying to solve this problem.” 

This little scene made a big impact on me. I loved Kara’s reaction. Theo told her what they can’t do, and Kara’s asked what they can do.

I’ve since gotten to know Kara, and we talked about this. She says that question — “What can we do?” — became a mantra of hers. She calls upon it when hitting a wall, or when someone says something is impossible.

I wondered: Why is this such a powerful reframe? Then I realized: It’s because, when we want something, we almost immediately limit our imaginations.

How to get what we want

Think of something you want right now. Maybe it’s a certain kind of growth. Or job. Or achievement. Or connection with a person.

Now, ask yourself: “How can I get that?”

I bet you have some specific answer — first I’ll do this, then that, then I’ll get that other thing...

This is good! It’s our action-oriented selves at work. But there’s a problem: When we imagine how we’ll get something, we start to think it’s the only way to get something.

If our original idea doesn’t work out, we assume we’re out of luck. Our way became the only way, and now the only way is no way.

But... what if you asked Kara’s question? “What can we do?”

Doesn’t matter what challenge you’re facing: There is an answer to that question. You can do something. It doesn’t mean you’ll always reach your goal exactly as you defined it, but it does mean you can find some action to take — a way to move towards something, or at least to move, because movement is the most important thing. No discovery happens by standing still.

Which brings me back to college, and how I graduated.

To recap: The English department chair told me I couldn’t graduate on time, because I hadn’t fulfilled one very specific requirement. I ran to my faculty advisor, Heather, begging for a solution. And then Heather thought like Kara.

How I graduated

Me and my sideburns, 2002

Heather looked at my situation. She saw what I couldn’t do — I couldn’t graduate without fulfilling a final English department requirement.

So what could I do? Well...

There was no rule against Heather creating a course by herself, just for one student, that happened to meet the specific needs of that student.

So that’s what she did: She made a course just for me.

I can’t remember the course’s name, but it was the most meaningful course I took in college. Heather gave me gigantic, bound books full of antique newspapers. I’d read them, finding patterns in the way stories were told and how culture was shifted, and then we discussed them in her office.

Somehow, this fulfilled my final requirement. I graduated on time. And I gained a love of old newspapers, which I still carry today. My writing and speaking (and book) are full of stories from history, often drawn from research I’ve done in old newspaper archives. That course sparked it all.

The English department chair told me: “Here’s what you can’t do.”

Heather asked: “What can we do?”

She found an answer — because there is always an answer. This is always something we can do. 

That’s how to do one thing better.

Let’s Talk Tomorrow (December 13)!

When you upgrade to my Premium newsletter, you can join my monthly “Office Hours.” And the first one is set: December 13 at 4 pm EST!

What happens in Office Hours?

My goal is to answer people’s questions, start useful conversations, make connections, and ensure that people walk away with insights they can use right now. It’s like this newsletter, but live and interactive.

Come with a question, or just come to listen.

How to join the conversation: I’ve already sent the Zoom link to Premium members. But I’ll send it again on Wednesday morning. If you upgrade after that, just email me and I’ll send it to you directly.

Let's Connect!

New to the newsletter? Subscribe for free and take control of your future.

💌 What do you think? Let me know!

📕 Order my book to future-proof your career!