That time when I learned to be helpless…



That time when I learned to be helpless

Saying no to inertia and breaking the cycle of learned helplessness.

A few months ago, I picked up ‘Woman, Act Now’ a book I had started to read weeks prior but left off. Twenty minutes later, I had goose bumps all over my skin, my heart began to race and I started to dream again.

I read about Dream Busters, those things that keep you from reaching for your dream and trusting yourself to believe that you can actually achieve something good in this world. I also read about Dream Catchers; People who have because of tragedy or triumph done something extraordinary with their lives.


I began to dream again. There were so many things I wanted to do and achieve but…the days seemed full of everything but my dreams. The grind of everyday life drowned out the voice of hope and possibility and the colorful dreams I used to have.

We all want to do something extraordinary in life. You know how I know?

Ever get that funny feeling in your gut when someone tells you about something big they’re doing? Something significant? You feel uncomfortable, sometimes even ordinary in the light of such achievements. No, it’s not envy. Well, for me it’s not. It’s a longing inside of me. A feeling that tells me I should be doing great things too and not flipping TV channels and sighing sadly that there’s nothing to watch or nowhere to go.

But the crux of the matter is the feeling of helplessness that I started to experience. You see in the past I had tried to do things that didn’t turn out right, some didn’t even materialize at all. Those were difficult situations that left me disappointed. The feeling of failure was a dull ache in my heart. The more I tried to do things that didn’t work, the more helpless I felt, so much so that the next time I had an idea and tried to pursue it I already assumed it will not work. I wasn’t just discouraged, I was practicing learned helplessness.

I have read about the concept of learned helplessness in Woman Act Now by Anna McCoy and Ready, Set… Grow by Dondi Scumaci. The realization of what it meant and how it was affecting my life hit me between the eyes.

“The vicious cycle starts: if you fail at something, you think it is your fault. Therefore you think you can’t do that task. As a result, next time you have to do the task, you believe you can’t so you don’t

even try. The result is that you can’t, just as you thought. You’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

This is a short explanation from Woman Act Now on what learned helplessness means. It is not an entirely new concept. As a matter of fact we all have experienced it in one form or the other. Personally I have experienced it in many diverse forms and in different areas of my life.

Dondi Schumaci calls it the ‘reaction of giving up because we do not believe that anything we can do will make a difference.’

So how does one overcome it? For me the saying ‘action cures fear’ works.

When I was trapped in that self-fulfilling prophecy, it took a huge step, fueled by my spouse to get me out of the vicious cycle. I was afraid. I wasn’t entirely confident that I could pull it off given my history of paralyzing inertia but I took a step anyway. And. It. Was. Freeing. The more I took action the less confused I was and the more hopeful and empowered I felt.

Resistance is normal when you have a dream, a vision, something you want to achieve. You will experience it. But take action nonetheless or you’ll never exit the debilitating cycle of helplessness.

I recommend the books Woman Act Now and Ready Set Grow. I’m still reading them and using them as resource materials. They changed my perspective.


May your dreams come true, with pomp and splendor!




Before you go:

My book ‘From the Sidelines’ is available on Amazon along with my first book, ‘Ms. Unlikely, a story about a young woman’s search for meaning fulfillment and love.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and you can get in touch at

2 thoughts on “That time when I learned to be helpless…”

  1. This is refreshing. . . Self fulfilling prophecies have held many of us back from chasing our dreams and like Remy said consistent goal-oriented action cures fear, no matter how crippling.

    For me, surrounding myself with lime minds also works the magic, especially people who have gone ahead of me and have successfully implemented what I’m thinking of doing. I became a suckered for this principle that I once set a goal to meet at least one new mentor every quater. Mentors don’t always have to be people older than us, most times they’re our peers or people even younger.

    I remember how spending 30 minutes on phone with a friend about my fear of an impending Visa application interview demystified the whole process for me. I walked in and out of the interview with a visa in 5 minutes, despite the fact that 5 people before were all denied visa. Of course, it’s easy to attribute it to luck and thank God but my friend who ‘walked me through’ process via his own experience played a major role.

    Networking and/or mentoring is key in any endeavor in life. An high school algebra equation might look intimidating to an high school student but not to an undergraduate with a major in Mathematics or Engineering. Life is phases and men are in sizes.

    1. Thanks Wale! You’re so right. It’s always helpful to have someone to talk to who has been ‘there’. The positive reinforcing effect of experience cannot be discounted.
      ‘Life is in phases and men are in sizes…’ Hmm, I like that!

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