What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do

I wasn’t going to publish a post this week. The truth is, I don’t know what to say right now. Every time I try to put even a few words down on paper, I hesitate. My brain tells me I’ll say the wrong thing, so don’t bother, because you don’t want to offend anyone. What good will my words do, anyway? And with that, I close my laptop and push it away, before I can complete a single thought.

I’ve been in this place before. Not in this exact situation, of course, but in this place where I haven’t known what to say. Last spring, it took months for me to process the fact that everything I had once believed would exist in my future was being thrown to the wind. I didn’t know how to navigate the new reality, and the unknown had me questioning everything. What would the next 1 month, 3 months and 6 months look like? Who could I turn to? And where did I really belong?

The situation consumed me. I tried to write, but I always hesitated. My brain told me I would say the wrong thing, so don’t bother, because you don’t want to reveal too much or hurt anyone in the process. What good would a blog post do, anyway? With that, I always deleted the draft, closed my laptop and pushed it away, before I could complete a single thought.

One day, in the middle of my road trip from Boston to Washington, DC last year, I found myself sitting on a train unable to hold back the tears. I happened to be texting with David, when I finally broken down and shared all of this. I hadn’t given up hope, but because I couldn’t see past this dark period in my life, I had no idea when I would finally see the light again. So I surrendered to the pain and confusion, waved my white flag and said, “I don’t know what to do anymore.”

His simple reply was one I’ve never forgotten:

It was short, sweet and to the point, and I’ve carried those words forward with me ever since. Helping someone came in all different forms: from opening more doors to doing random acts of kindness, giving more of my time, listening intently and even just smiling more. I didn’t know what to do for myself, but I could still offer parts of myself to others – and that has made all the difference.

You might be unsure of how to navigate your new reality. The unknown could have you questioning everything. You might not be able to imagine what the next 1 month, 3 months and 6 months will look like, or know who to turn to, or even know where you belong right now. But it’s important to remember that we can never know what the future will hold. And as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

So, when you don’t know what to do, help someone else.

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  • I love this Cait. I’d also recommend aggressive self-care. My default mode when feeling depressed is to binge eat. But I know I can’t help others when I’m recovering from a self-induced food coma. It’s been an incredibly difficult week, but I was amazed by the power of a simple hike.

  • Very sound advice when you think about it. Helping someone else usually gives you a feeling of happiness that can improve your mood. In fact studies have show giving makes us happier then spending on ourselves. Couple that with the flip side of the equation. Most people deal better with solving a difficult situation best when they think about it the least. It’s why you always hear things like my best ideas happen when I’m sleeping or in the shower. By focusing on helping others you force yourself to take that break from thinking about the issue you currently cannot solve.

  • So many friends (and me) struggling with similar feelings right now. It helps to know we’re not alone, and it doesn’t help to wallow in it. Here’s what I said to my cousin last night–thanks for adding a much-needed and productive extra step looking outward to help others.
    Do you have insight into the biggest issues? Is it the election, work, weather, or lots of little things building up at once? Step 1 you’ve already done- reach out to your community, and I hope you’re realizing that you’re very well loved and we’re all so very eager to help but we need you to tell us more about how we can do it best. Step 2 get some sleep, take some time off work if needed/possible. Step 3 get outside and get moving. Step 4 be specific in asking for what you need, whether it’s a friend to go to lunch with, go on a walk with, to bring you a pumpkin spice latte, or to call you every day (or twice a day) to check in. Talk with those you trust and respect regarding addressing any identifiable issues over the long term. Step 5 YouTube some clean comedy videos and share the links with us so we can join in your giggles. Step 6 know that it gets better.

  • Thank you for this. David is very wise. :) It is similar to something I’ve been chewing on lately but couldn’t put quite so eloquently: the need to live outwardly, to serve the world around me instead of revolving my life around me all the time. I also saw a great quotation from President Obama on the Humans of New York page saying something to this effect, too. I’ll definitely be keeping David’s great advice in mind!

  • Thank you Cait. This helped. I am also going to try avoiding compulsive news checking which feels like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

  • Thanks. I love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote and your friend David’s advice. I am still in a fog, so desperately sad and confused. I’m avoiding all news and dropping into fiction & music. Maybe this is a way to start stepping forward.

  • I believe our happiness depends so much on what we give to others. Thanks for sharing this great truth and practical solution to turmoil or uncertainty. At times it’s so easy for me to stay negative and frustrated when I’m focused on myself and my circumstances. Getting out of my head is so important!

    I just read a pretty good book that relates to this theme, called The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. It takes a while to get to the point, but when it does, it’s profound.

  • I am sure you will receive some wonderful advice in response to this post. It does no good to dwell on the past or to worry about tomorrow. Although I do this all the time. Today is today. Surround yourself with positive and try to avoid the negative if you can. Doing (or writing) something is better than not. You never know who will read this post and feel uplifted and feel hope. I guess I should do the same and try to get my own blog post written. See! You have already helped someone. :)

  • Perfect timing for your post. I am at the same roadblock in life, just last week I made the decision to give as much of my time to a friend who has dementia. By doing this I hope to not only help her, but her family as well. It does help put the focus off myself and on to something I can make a difference at.

  • *nods* this is exactly the solution that’s gotten me through last week. As a minority woman in the States, after the Election, I have many worries about what’s going to be pushed through under this Presidency. There’s nothing I can do to personally affect that other than donating to the organizations that will fight to protect our rights, but there is a lot I can do for the friends in my life who are under even more immediate threat. Help doesn’t have to be money. For some, it can be moral support, it can be hearing that you are thinking of them and care about them, it can be sending the plushie that you know will give them a laugh in dark times. I’m doing all of these things for them, and for my own soul, until I do know what to do.

    Thanks for sharing, as always.

  • Being honest and open and putting your thoughts and feelings out there matters, even if you’re unsure of what to say. So many people can relate. The light always shines eventually.

  • Love the message that you just shared and how awesome of David to provide you with something so simple yet so powerful. This post was not what I expected from the title and was pleasantly surprised. Thanks for starting my week of on a good vibe Cait :)

  • Cait… Great piece. Also, I’ve been reading through your blog archives. Well written, inspirational, just plain fun to read. You should publish an anthology of selective entries.

  • Very good advice! Helping others is always good. And when you decide to do it when you’re stuck, you’re taking a break from subjects in which you’re stuck – both your body and your mind are somewhere else when helping someone. After such a break you have a new perspective on what you had problem with, you look at it with fresh eyes. You’re nearer to the solution.

  • Thank you for not pushing the laptop away this time! We all needed to read this. (And thanks, David, for the sage advice here!) I don’t know if I’m yet at a point where I can help others, but this is a big nudge in the right direction!

  • I think we’ve all been here from time to time! It’s great to get away and recharge. I love that your answer is to go out and help someone else! Helping others has always brought joy to my life! And it does tend to rejuvenate me and grow me in a way that opens up more doors! I hope you’re able to get back to it and to be able to find new things to share and get past the writer’a block!

  • You are so right with this. When I’m depressed and too “inside my head,” I pack up toiletries and women’s products, like tampons or make up, and I bring them to shelters in the downtown eastside. It may sound strange, but a lot of poor women get pads at the shelters, but not tampons. It’s a little luxury that they don’t have to spend their money on. And really, it’s me the giver, who is getting the benefit from giving. Just a smile for a little bag of supplies makes my day. A few years ago I could only afford to do this around the winter holidays. But now, with frugal living, I can do this once every two months for around 10 women. It’s a small step, true, but it works to allay the depression (along with meds;). And I vow each year to give more.

  • <3. This is wonderful. It's amazing how stepping back from your own problems and helping someone else can help you to bring clarity to your own situation. Not to mention helping someone else is focusing on something positive which is always good.

  • Beautiful. I have been there as well, the uncontrollable emotion that can lead you to sobs in the middle of a train. Your friend gave you exactly what you needed at the exact right time. And your words have come to others at the exact right time. You’ve paid it forward more than you know. Thank you.

  • Yes! I love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, but I also love David’s advice. When you don’t know what to do, it is always right to do the kind thing that presents itself to you. Thank you for this post.

  • AWESOME Post. This is definitely a KEEPER. I’m going to pass this along and I’m going to take David’s Advice. Thank YOU.

  • Cait, I just thought I’d let you know how much I always enjoy reading your blog posts. I follow quite a lot of different blogs on different topics but I always look forward to reading yours more than most. I think you write beautifully and even if the particular blog post isn’t so relevant to me, I read it anyway because you write to nicely and express your ideas so well. Just thought I’d let you know that :-)

  • That’s a wise friend there. It’s okay to be wrong, too. Sometimes it is better to act and later discover where you failed and correct the action. Inaction won’t get you anywhere. Obviously.