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Why We Feel Stuck in Life and the Secret to Dealing with It

Woman in a jar

It is the way we react to circumstances that determines our feelings.” ~Dale Carnegie

We’ve all felt like we’re drowning in mud.

You feel stuck, worthless, and confused.

You want to move. You should. You have to. But you can’t.

And then it evolves into anxiety, fear, and overwhelm.

But what if—just what if—being stuck isn’t the problem, but how we perceive it?

The Truth About Being Stuck

Every year, I have periods where I feel “stuck.”

Yet when I look closer, I see that “being stuck” is a label I give to a natural part of life.

It’s a time when not much happens. The anxiety comes when I think it should be otherwise. I start to force myself to work, to come up with ideas, and to make things happen.

And when I don’t get anywhere, I call it being stuck.

So, what is being stuck except the way I perceive life?

As I write this, I’ve been in a stuck period for the last few months. The difference is that I struggle less, because I’m beginning to let it be.

Why We Get Stuck

You get stuck when you think you should be something you’re not. When you think life should be different than it is.

I know I’m trying to force myself to do something when words like ”should,” ”have to,” and ”must” enter my mind.

When I relax and surrender to this quiet period in my life, things seem okay. I see that I can’t control life. I can only notice what life brings to me.

The Secret to Being Stuck Completely

Being stuck is like quicksand. The more you try to get out, the deeper you sink.

My mind wants to push, control, and manipulate. It stems from insecurity. I want to be secure, be loved, and be remarkable.

I think that if I could just control life, all would be well.

It’s not until I face reality that things begin to lift. Here are three things I do:

1. Give up.

When you’re stuck, surrender to being stuck.

I notice the thoughts and feelings within me that say that I’m stuck, and that something is wrong.

If I stay completely in this moment, there is no being stuck. There is only the label of a situation—a label that I’ve invented based on what I think my life should look like.

When I notice all this going on, I breathe a deep sigh of relief.

But that doesn’t mean that the feelings go away. I might still feel the anxiety, but it doesn’t have a death grip on me anymore.

I can see the play of thoughts. I can surrender to what comes.

And I still fall into resisting, but I’m getting better at letting it be what it is. I’m getting better at enjoying being stuck.

The funny thing is that when we enjoy being stuck, we’re not stuck anymore, because being stuck was all in our head.

2. Enjoy yourself.

There’s always something you feel drawn to do during these periods. You’re not completely stuck, not in every area of your life.

Right now, I’m reading books. I’m playing with my son. I’m watching movies and TV shows (the British version of Sherlock is amazing).

And on occasion, I’m writing articles like this, expressing what I feel.

I do the work I need to do. But then I let myself have fun.

It’s easy for me to feel guilty during this period because I feel like I’m not doing enough. But I’ve learned to see that I’m doing the best I can.

It’s another example of getting stuck in the story that I tell myself.

I am who I am. I’m doing what I can do. That’s enough.

And right now, that means doing less. The tide will shift soon enough.

The same is true for you. Do what you can, but go easy on yourself.

3. Write.

At times when I feel truly stuck, I write.

I don’t have a system or structure. I get a piece of paper and I write. I like to write by hand, the old fashioned way. It seems to clear my head more than writing on my computer.

What I do is write down everything going on in my head. No censoring. No looking back.

I let everything come out, especially the nasty bits.

The more I do this, the more I notice repeating patterns. I see how I want to change what is, and how futile it is.

The more aware I become, the more these things fall away.

When you truly become aware of what goes on inside of your head, you start to let go because you see how you create your own suffering.

My Biggest Mistake

When we resist what is, we suffer. That’s true for anything in life.

When I try to change what is, I poison myself from the inside out.

But with time, I’ve learned to see my resistance as a sign to relax. To see that I can only do my best with what I have, then it’s out of my hands.

There’s no pushing needed. Life lives itself through me, because I am life.

I am not separate from anything or anyone. I am this planet. I am the stars. I am you.

I sometimes wonder why we think we are not supported in life. We come into this world through a womb, where we’re supported.

The trees in the forest are supported. Yet we believe we’re the exception. Are we? I don’t think we are.

We just think that life should look different than it does. But the fact that life isn’t what you think it is shows that you’re wrong.

Let Things Be

Whether you feel stuck for a week or for a year doesn’t really matter.

You do the best you can with what you have.

But something I’ve noticed is that the longer I’m stuck, and the more I surrender to it, the more I learn when I come out of it.

It is the darkest periods of my life that have taught me the most about myself.

I’ve learned that life isn’t all about accomplishing things. Sometimes it’s about resting and letting things be.

These periods are no different than the seasons. There’s sun. There’s snow. There’s light, and there’s darkness.

Once you let it be what it is, things change because your perception changes.

But beware of making this another thing you have to do. Be kind to yourself. Let yourself be completely stuck.

And let yourself fight it, because you will.

It’s all good.

Woman in a jar image via Shutterstock

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  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Thank you so much for sharing your story…this was really helpful & came at the right moment! 🙂

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for this I needed to read this because I have been feeling stuck for 6 months now. Hopefully I will not be stuck in 2015!

  • Hi Henri, great words. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Throughout my life I always found that whenever I felt stuck I had to regain love for myself in order to move on.

    We have to accept ourselves. We have to realise that we are worthy and deserving. We have to be happy with our imperfections.

    There are times in our lives where we find ourselves stuck at the crossroads because we want to please everybody. Whenever we allow someone else to give us value, we lose confidence.

    What does confidence mean? It means to trust yourself. To trust yourself you have to know yourself. To know thyself you have to love yourself. That’s one powerful way I found to get unstuck.

  • N.eddy

    I had so many down “stuck” periods this year. Moments of depression as I tried my damnedest to resist. Some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed (and I’m a mother of 2 so cue the guilt.) It was only when I finally said, “you are down. For whatever reason unmotivated. Own it. Embrace it. It needs your loving kindness.” And it was what I needed to make the shift. To give myself a break and not be so hard on myself. By “owning” my stuckedness I became unstuck (and became aware I was in a very unhappy marriage.)

  • Tia

    I can completely relate to this article. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling these last few months. I am finally learning how to take things more easy/let things go. Thank you.

  • Vivienne

    I sail, and my boat is docked in a place that needs a slack tide to get in and out of the marina. To some, slack tide is an annoyance. The tide isn’t going in or out, it’s neither a high tide nor a low tide. It feels just as you have described, stuck. The truth is, slack tide is as important as a moving tide, especially for me!

  • Sherman Smith

    Hey Henri,

    This is something I feel sometimes. Sometimes you just have to let things be and live in the moment in order to progress. You get back aligned and you feel whole . Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a Happy New Year!

  • Louise Watson

    Great post! I’m just coming out of a being stuck phase and couldn’t agree more with the advice you’ve given here. If we relax into it and even try to enjoy it, then the way forward will eventually become clear to us. Thank you!

  • YuNisu

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It helps me realize more about my life. That its okay if somethings doesnt go your way as long as u know u did ur best. ok! I will just do my best! Thank you!

  • Glad to hear that!

  • It’s not easy, but once things begin to click, life gets easier. Not smoother. Not without bumps. But easier 🙂

  • It’s funny how we learn to resist depression and any darkness, but it’s not until you accept it that you give yourself room to shift, to change. Thanks for sharing that.

  • And sometimes you don’t do your best. Even that is okay 🙂

  • Absolutely, Louise!

  • Same to you, Sherman!

  • Well put 🙂

  • I’ve noticed in my own life that the stuckness is often there for a reason. Sometimes it tells me to relax, and sometimes it reveals something about myself.

  • Summer

    Thank you so much, you have truly blessed me with this message. Bless you.

  • Melanie

    It’s very comforting to hear I’m not the only one who feels stuck. I failed the California bar exam on my first try, after months of preparing and yet more months of waiting to receive my results. I have to retake it in February. Last year, I lost my beautiful apartment when I ran out of money because I couldn’t work because I had to study. I am looking forward to working again so that I can get engaged, marry my boyfriend, and finally start our home together. In the meantime, I’ve had an amazing fountain of support. I’ve also had experiences which brought me closer to my family and friends, who I missed out on during law school and while working, and that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have learned about what is most important to me without all the frills of my former life, as well as about how to be more patient, accepting, and self-loving. Cheers to you and everyone here on making the best of quiet time to embark on self-discovery. May we all reach our respective destinies in due time.

  • I really enjoyed this post!
    It is true that surrender is the only way to get unstuck. For me, I need to remind myself that the control I ‘think’ I have is only an illusion and when I release it..I allow moment -to-moment presence to enter my life, which in turn brings me a sense of openness and a sense of calmness. I will take that over control any day.

  • Couldn’t agree more. That’s a powerful insight to have. For most people it takes decades.

  • Thanks for sharing that, and cheers to you, too. Things don’t always go the way we want, but sometimes that’s for the best.

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Melanie

    Thank you. Looking back over my life, I’ve come to realize that every challenge presented a lesson with a chance to learn, refine, and grow. It is more a matter of whether we are willing to open up, listen, and put that lesson to good use. It helps to remember this. It also helps to remember all the times there was something we thought we’d never get through, but landed on our feet anyway. The human heart is a lot more resilient than we give it credit for.

  • What works best for me is being gentle with myself during these periods because I tend to get stuck when I’m pushing too hard. By the way, I’m addicted to Sherlock too at the moment 🙂

  • Shawn

    I have so much in my life that I should feel grateful for and unfortunately I just don’t. Life feels empty most of the time. I feel irritable and angry for no reason. I have little passion in anything, avoid spending time with family and friends, lack the energy and will power to do any form of exercise and just generally feel miserable a lot. I find life to be boring, repetitive, etc. I’m very negative and have very bad mood swings. I have no interest in any religion. My wife reminds me how I should stop focusing on the negatives in life and be grateful for my life. I just don’t know what to do… How do you find joy in life when you feel like I do?

  • Sue

    “Life lives itself through me, because I am life.” Wow.

    Thank you – I needed this. Great piece of writing.

    And I love Sherlock, too! 🙂

  • Well said! Change becomes possible when you learn to awaken to your depression and “negative” emotions. The essence of awakening is compassionate consciousness, where you actually learn to care for your emotional suffering rather than rejecting your unwanted emotions. The Buddha taught compassion, never aversion – and that means to your own emotions too.

  • William Ray

    Thank you for posting this, having a real hard time right now and can’t quite put my finger on it. My GF told me to visit this site to make myself feel better and this is the third article I read and I feel a little better and I may just enjoy my day now!

  • Sammi

    I am so glad I came across this article. It relates to my life situation so well, I just need to follow these steps and let my life do it itself.

  • Carlos

    This article was a waste of time. Not to sound grouchy or anything, but it was so vague, so pointless, so cheesy – was it really worth the kilobytes?

  • Veselin

    I feel just the same. Even tho im 17. I just feel like i dont have ambitionz. Every day is the same like yesterday. I cant find something to look forward to. Overthinking. Unsure about almost anything. I dont have many friends and i hardly meet some one new. I dont know how to continue… or where to start a new begining..

  • cherfer

    I wish I could find some more concrete advice on this subject. not everyone likes to write 🙁

  • Lisa Byrne

    This is a really helpful piece of advice for the uptight worriers like myself. So many self help articles make changing out to be a very simple process, which it is anything but. I like how you reminded the reader that it is okay to be stuck, it’s okay to have hiccups, because I’m sure we’re all used to reading what we should be doing instead of just letting things be and accepting ourselves right where we are. I really appreciate this piece, it’s helped me to change how I perceive things which has made me feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. Thank you 🙂

  • Cherie Christie

    So all I need to do is surrender?!
    I’ve been stuck for the past 2 years. My mother passed away in 2014. I was finally coming out of my “unstuck” period then my brother OD a week before Christmas 2015. I’m so drained & exhausted & feel worthless cause I’m not out there working & put so much pressure on myself to be something that I’m not. So back to resting up & letting go.
    Thank you! It’s good to read I’m not the only one like this, not that I’d wish this on anyone!

  • Surrendering is the first step, but must be followed up with embracing the negative emotions with full consciousness + compassion (the definition of mindfulness meditation).

  • Michael Osborne

    Socrates the greatest philosopher sums it all up with two words ‘Know thyself’. I have just read a book by Shakti Gawain where her answer is just to follow your intuition/gut feeling. That is also about trusting and accepting yourself.

  • tyler

    This article was like the needle in the haystack I have been looking for. I knew that there must be something(reading material) out there that can help me but could not find it. Finally, I found this article. Great job and thank you so much!

  • Virginia Green

    Best advice I’ve ever gotten about being stuck. TY

  • DNelson

    Thank you for writing and sharing this (I know I am late to this conversation). I have been feeling “stuck” for a few months now and I haven’t been able to put my finger on what exactly it is that I am feeling and why exactly it is that I am feeling this way. The only way I can describe it is using this term “stuck”. I also use the term “bored”, but I feel that has a slightly different meaning, essentially insinuating that by being busy or having my mind occupied that I would feel better, but I am not sure that is true.

    I have been asked by a friend if I am depressed, and I don’t think what I am feeling is depression. I also feel that we live in a society where depression is over-diagnosed. It’s almost like we aren’t allowed to feel down or “stuck”, and anytime we do, it means that something is wrong. So maybe that is why we put so much time and energy into getting out of this “stuck” feeling, because we think that it isn’t normal. However, I think you have done a good job in essentially saying that it is okay to feel “stuck”, and maybe that is just what I needed to hear. Reading your post kind of gave me a bit of relief that I haven’t been able to discover or find elsewhere, so thanks again!

  • One of the best things to do when we feel stuck is to meditate on that very feeling itself. When you meditate on an emotion, including those associated with anxiety and depression, you effectively stop feeding those negative emotions through rumination and “worrying” and create a space around the emotion in which the emotion begins to change and heal itself.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy.

  • J Li

    Wow this is what I needed ! And the bonus is that I now know there are a lot of people on the same boat ! Thank you Mr. Henri 🙂

  • Mitzi Wheeler

    Thank you.

  • Mitzi Wheeler

    Does anyone have ways of embracing it or learning How to accept it?

  • Hey Mitzi. If you want to see how I do it, I have a video on my YouTube channel. I’m not sure I am allowed to post a link, but let’s try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjWl4CYeEZk

  • Mitzi Wheeler

    Thank you for the link.

  • Gabriel Hernandez

    Thank you so much! Is difficult for the mind that is accostume to always moving and acoplishing, to see being stuck as a momento of resting and letting things fall into place. Thank you it came at
    the right moment.

  • Pixie

    Interesting. Good to hear something different.

  • hajar mojahid

    you’re amazing.. you just expressed what i feel & i didn’t even know what it is ! feeling better to know now that i am not alone & it is gonna end up soon 🙂
    thank you

  • Jason Roth

    It’s about expression. Let out the insides. I believe stuck is when God wants us to stop our outside activities and get a new perspective on something important. Some change – inside or out, or both. So don’t write, but let it out honestly and fully. Move

  • cherfer

    I’m an atheist lol but thanks 🙂

  • Jodie Shae

    Beautiful piece of writing!

  • Anonymous

    I have lived in stuck for the past ten years. I’m never not stuck. There is nothing I want or desire to do. The necessities are taken care of—that’s all that matters. Having “more” is more to manage, more to deal with, more to screw up, more to be confused by. Possessions are burdens. Goals are an endless series of boulders to push uphill—empiness is the prize of accomplishment.
    People confuse me; “relationships” are incomprehensible.

  • Tatiana Nvm

    Amazing article. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, this is exactly what I needed to hear at this point of my life.

  • Vassil

    Same here, everything you try seems a dead end.

  • Anon

    Very nicely put…

  • Daniel

    Thank You so much, That was all I needed to hear in this moment. Blessings!! 🙂

  • What you have said is good and I have proven it but I think this is fine only for sometime but if it takes you forever then you have to do something really life-changing. It’s terrible to watch your loved one (let’s say an old mother) cannot eat or buy medicine just because your irresponsible sister gave birth to a child in no time and you have to stay home and be the nanny. In my case, I have given my fair share of patience and learning new things while being stucked at home being the nanny and the housemaid. But the more I accept this, the more my family abuses me. I am just preventing them to make an effort to become independent or at least help to lighten the load. I cannot accept responsibilities of other people for too long and I cannot study forever. I have to go out and get my hands for the real thing. In my situation, I am not being honored for my free services that I am giving but instead I am being hurt by the people I am helping. I can see this as a signal that I have to leave them so they could learn their own lessons.

  • Hi, Shawn. You did your post from long time ago. I hope you have overcame your problem already or at least dealt with it better than before at this time. But in case you’re still not fine, I can suggest you to know what exactly that irritates you or makes you negative. Then, read more articles like this or watch videos about your problems on the internet. Just be careful to what informations you will follow because not all of it will be good for you and your particular situation. Take note that people cannot have the same exact situation. But in my own experience, many of the informations I read and watch helped me. I just stay away from religious topics (except about my own religion) because other religions out there (particularly so-called Christians) are not really following the practices that Christ teaches. One of the reasons why there are so many atheists today is because they could see the weaknesses and the contradictions of the doctrines of these “Christian” religions. But the contrary is happening in my own religion. Many people are coming in instead of coming out and many of them are atheists because they REALLY STUDIED DEEPLY the doctrines of my church and they found what their SOULS (not head!) are really looking for.

    If you are not interested in religion, that may mean that the religions that you see around you are not the true religion that can save souls OR, you are not taking time to try to learn of these religions before judging them. If you will use our common sense, you could expect that a true Christian religion is dynamic, growing fast, moralistic, humanitarian, no contradictions in its teachings, doesn’t do anything against the Bible, no corruption, finances are taken care strictly, you can see where your offerings come (you can see lots of infrastructure projects being finished), the leader has no double standard and is strict even with his own family, etc etc. But these expectations are only based on common sense and not directly from the Bible. The Bible is specific about the qualities that people should look when following a religion. If I were you and you are still stucked in your life, I will use my time on searching about the true religion because this is the most important thing, no matter what other people would think. You just have to be REALLY VERY CAREFUL and to STEP OUT of your comfort zone. We put a lot of effort in work or family life. Its the same in religion.

    If you’re interested to know about my religion, tell me here and I’ll provide you my email.

  • Athina Moussouli

    Dear one, I am as you are, the nanny and housemaid of my ailing elderly mother, who needs constant care. All relatives and friends turned their back on me, as it was absolutely my own f@cking problem, not theirs. Even the employers I worked for, told me the exact same thing. Cynicism all around. I have been stuck for years, with no courage to do nothing. If you can leave the situation without consequences, JUST DO IT. But don’t fool yourself. You will do it for your own salvation. You cannot teach somebody else a lesson that he/she does’t want to learn, or it’s not the right time. Personally, I entered into victimhood, I have accepted it, and fallen deeply in the quicksand.

  • Ben

    what if you feel stuck physically? Like no matter where I go I seem to think there’s more out there I’m missing. in another country perhaps. or am I just not content with myself and where I’m at in life? I have no reason to feel sad yet I do. I feel like I constantly have to be moving. to live in one house, in one state, of one country, makes me feel like I’m in a cage. I have travelled in the past and that seems to be the only time I can let go of this feeling. But a week of some new place and I’m stuck again. I feel stuck even when I’m free to do and go wherever I want. Any advice on that?

  • What is going on here is that you have an inner disconnection with a part of you that is in pain and abandoned. That core emotion of neediness tries to fill its hunger through external stimulation like traveling. What I would teach a person in your position is to learn how to meditate on that inner sadness and need to reconnect your True Self to that Little Self (the inner emotional pain) because it needs YOU, if this makes any sense?
    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • Ben

    Thank you. I needed some sort of direction with this. I think I understand what you mean. I have never tried meditation before. and I guess I do feel disconnected from myself. like I don’t even know what I want sometimes. I’ve dealt with depression before and created this horrible image of myself, my self hatred. I will try and rid myself of this with mediation. thank you so much peter it means more to me than you could ever imagine.

  • You are welcome! Now remember, you are not trying to get rid of the depression. That won’t work. Instead you to cultivate friendliness and eventually love for the emotion. This is what it needs to heal; not hatred and not avoidance. Make friends with that “horrible image” and sit with it in meditation. Notice how it will start changing itself, changing its imagery. This image metamorphosis occurs quite naturally when you bring non-reactive mindfulness to the emotion, and it is by changing the imagery that the emotion heals itself. If you like, depression is simply emotional imagery that is stuck and not changing.
    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • Ben

    to love the emotion I’m so reluctant to feel seems like big task. to friend the negative image I’ve made of myself . I’m willing to try for my own sake. how do I reach a one on one with that image inside of mediation?

  • It takes some work and guidance but if you want to heal then this is what you have to do. Generating inner love in this way not only brings about healing but also has many, many other effects on your well-being and in your relationships.
    Become the Observer and start looking at the emotion. The more you see the easier it gets and the freer you become. Also, watch for all reactions to the emotion and respond to these in the same way – with friendliness and non-reactivity.

  • Madden Soldier

    I liked this article a lot, you were describing what I was feeling and by acceptance and calmness maybe i can help myself fight through, thanks

  • Bobm

    Great article, really appreciate it. Sometimes its difficult to strike the balance between being proactive and letting go during those ruts.

  • Jen Cao

    Thank you so much for this

  • Haylee

    I’ve been feeling “stuck” for the longest time. I am so glad that I came across this post! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Jennifer

    I do not believe “emptiness is the prize of accomplishment”. If you do not find meaning in your goal, than you may feel empty. However, if there is personal meaning in what you want to do, you will feel a huge sense of satisfaction from accomplishing your goals. At least that what I’ve learned in my short 24 years of life.

  • Amelia

    I’ve been feeling stuck for quite a while now and it felt selfish and silly for me to want more out of life. At the moment though my situation is out of my control but one day I’ll be able to break free I hope, so thank you for this article, it’ll be useful but I can imagine I’ll struggle to surrender to being stuck.

  • Kelsey

    Hi there. To give some background, I am fairly young, still in college and I feel stuck. My mother was the one who pushed me to go to college instead of travelling like I wanted. My fiance is in the army and had offered me to go with. My mother fought me until I gave in to stay. I feel trapped. What should I do?

  • Hannah

    Thank you so much for writing this article. You put into words my feelings and gave me the answers and solutions to those!

  • Diego Castellano

    This is by far the Hardest in so much as Ones Reflections of the Past..Ones Path, has ended.
    In Order to Learn, I Hope My Understanding is Sound….A New Path Awaits….new people, places, the whole spectrum….Cause the Last Path and Its Lessions….are Over.
    For myself, so much has Changed, even I looking back still wondering How I made it this Far…Even at Rock Bottom…. One realises Ya Did your Best with what you had…
    This is the One Time I look at Closely at My Life and the People in it….Who within The Circle Of Friends….I need to let go of….In Order to Grow….
    People either Help or Bind Ones Being for whatever reason…don’t matter good, bad….if It Drains You…Check It!
    And Know…This will Upset People in your Lives… Yet do you Grow or allow all the People in your Life to Also Grow?

  • Shawna Jackson

    This is exactly what I needed today. Thank you for your thoughts and raw emotions as it pertains to ‘feeling stuck’….even though I know what it is, I felt relief in reading your passage that echos….I am not alone in this human experience.

  • Sarah

    Hey ! This really helped me. I am in this state where I know I can do things and I want to do things but I don’t know what and it get me stucked and afraid of being unable to enjoy life and fulfill myself. I kind of feel like my life is designed to be meaningless and boring you know ?

  • What incredibly stupid advice — “When you’re stuck, surrender to being stuck.”

    That stupid advice will have you drown.

    Here is the fix: Stop believing you’re stuck. Gain perspective.

    If your car was stuck in mud, would you shrug your shoulders, declare that your car is stuck and can’t be unstuck and then walk away? No. You would devise a way to get your car unstuck.

    You might call a tow truck (ask for help from another). You might jack up the car high enough to drive off the jack (self help).

    You can believe that every moment is like this: The challenge gauntlet has been thrown down. So I must face the challenge and win it to get to the next level.

    The sooner that you confront what is facing you, the sooner you will devise a means to get beyond it.

  • chriscia

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been depressed for such a long time since I became unemployed. I felt like all doors are closing on me. I question my past decisions and chosen path. But after reading this, I realized that maybe this chapter of my life is the time for me to reflect, rest and just be free. Thank you again.