Transition on pause: Are you stuck or incubating?

Recently a new friend told me he thought he was stuck. His dream transition wasn’t taking shape the way he thought it would. After he explained his situation, I told him I didn’t think he was stuck. Instead, like a fine wine, his dream was incubating.

When it seems like it’s taking a long time for your dream, or transition, to materialize it’s easy to feel stuck. And you may be. Or like my friend, your dream may be incubating, fermenting to its intended purpose.

How can you know the difference?



Years ago IBM was very effective at keeping corporate IT leaders from abandoning Big Blue when they couldn’t immediately provide a solution their customers needed. They introduced their customers to FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Jumping to another solution would be risky, costly and would ultimately cost the leader their job. IBM famously used FUD to keep many leaders stuck; frozen in fear.

If you require absolute certainty about your transition or dream, you may be stuck too. Here are three signs:

When your certainty of direction becomes less clear over time. At one time your dream transition was clear. You had a pretty good idea where you wanted to go. Now, you’re less sure. Not because you’ve done the research, but because you’ve stopped evaluating it altogether. Your present situation, and maybe even your discontent with it, dominates your thinking. Your eyes are looking down rather than forward. Inwardly you’ve resigned to the “devil you know rather than the devil you don’t.” So you’ve abandoned the search for your perfect pitch and lost a sense of personal vision in the process.

When you resist the next step. You know what to do. There are clear steps you can take to work on your dream or transition. But you avoid them, even the smallest of them. You may have intention—even passion—but the enthusiasm quickly fades when it comes to do the work to make any progress at all toward it. This is more than just having a busy schedule. This is active avoidance; it costs you to not do the work.

When you are over-functioning. Come hell or high-water you’re going to get it done—every last piece—no matter what it takes. What looks laudably like commitment may just be over-inflated control. The telltale sign is impatience, and perhaps anger, when others don’t line up as quickly to the idea as you.

If any of these signs are true for you, relax. You’re only stuck. The dream is still there. The good news is you now know it and you can ask yourself some questions to get going again.

But if your personal vision has not clouded, and you’re not resisting action, nor are you anxiously trying to control the situation, then the delay you may be experiencing is nothing more than necessary incubation.

Great ideas and new beginnings need to incubate to become their very best. How many products have been rushed to market before their time, only to be reintroduced later when adoption was more likely? Remember the Apple Newton?

The same can happen in your dream transition. Remember what happened when the Old Testament patriarch Abraham tried to fulfill God’s promise through a surrogate. That didn’t work out so well. But at just the right time that God will bring His promise for your life as well (see Genesis 21:2).

Hurrying the process is like uncorking this year’s vintage and enjoying a nice cool glass of grape juice. Instead, remember the words of Orson Welles on behalf of Paul Masson, “We will sell no wine before its time.” He got that from God.

What are other signs you may be stuck?

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2 thoughts on “Transition on pause: Are you stuck or incubating?

  1. Excellent thoughts, Leary. You sliced and separated some very important nuances between “stuck” and “incubating.” By listening to our emotions we are aided in telling the difference. Is it OK to turn up the heat on the incubator?

    • Hi Roger and thanks for the comment. I think as long as you’re not resisting action you’ve got the heat where it needs to be. I find myself vacillating often between the extremes of avoidance and over-functioning. In each case the heat is either too low (or off altogether) or too high and I scorch everything around me. “Good rest. Good work.” as our friend Dave would say. 🙂

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