6 Questions To Ask Yourself To See If You're Stagnant (Or Not)

"Stagnation is self-abdication."—Ryan Talbot


Let's talk about stagnation for a moment, shall we? When it comes to a cool place to begin the discussion, how about let's start with water. Do you remember hearing in elementary-level science class that stagnant water stinks? Well, it wasn't too long ago that this theory was brought back to my remembrance after leaving a cup of water sitting on the side of my sink for a couple of days. When I went to rinse it out—Lord, have mercy! How could a simple coffee mug, with nothing but water in it, smell all foul like that? I did a little research and rediscovered that when water has a limited dissolved oxygen in it, it's a breeding ground for bacteria. As the organisms in the bacteria start to die, that's what makes stagnant (still) water smell as crappy as it does.

In walks, the definition of stagnant. One definition is "to cease to run or flow, as water, air, etc." Another is "to be or become stale or foul from standing, as a pool of water". Both of those apply to water really well (and are a good reminder of why you should open up your house windows to let some fresh air in, every once in a while, too). Well, two other definitions for stagnant are "to stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing" and "to be or become sluggish and dull". Hmph. When the author Vince Flynn once said, "If you're not busy living, you're dying", this pretty much sums up why stagnation is so problematic. All of us have a limited amount of time on this planet and to fall into a rut of being stagnant is about the worst use of yours that you could ever do.

So, how can you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are stagnant when it comes to how you are currently living your life? I suggest that you start by asking yourself the following six questions and then pay attention to what your mind, body and spirit tell you about your answers.

1. Are You Using Your Gifts and Talents on the Regular?


Every single one of us was born with gifts and talents. To me, gifts are things that come extremely natural to you that appear close to supernatural to others. Talents are things that you are good at, yet you might need a little help with fine-tuning. For instance, I know that one of my gifts is writing. A talent of mine is singing. A friend of mine (shout-out to award-winning producer SHANNON SANDERS) says that a mistake that a lot of us make is we spend more time trying to master our talents than cultivate our gifts; if we did the opposite, there's no telling what doors would open up for us (which is exactly why I went the writing route).

Anyway, sometimes we're so consumed with making ends meet, that more time, effort and energy is put into doing our jobs than fueling our gifts and talents. Yet remember that a wise person once said that, "You weren't born to just pay bills and die" and that really is the God honest truth. If whatever your paying gig is consists of you utilizing your gifts and talents, my only two cents for that would be, if you're working to build someone else's empire, make sure to invest some time into also building one of your own too. However, if you can't even remember the last time you wrote, sang, painted, designed—whatever it is that you do extremely and naturally well, whether you realize it or not, you are actually not living life to its fullest because, again, a part of your purpose is to utilize the gifts and talents that you've been given.

If you know that you haven't been vigilant in this area, there's no time like the present to start. Decide today that you will devote time, daily, to your gifts and talents. Watch how much fuller your life becomes, the very moment that you do.

2. Is Every Day Exactly the Same?


Boredom sucks. That said, one definition that I think folks need to keep in the forefront of their mind when it comes to being bored is "tedious repetition". Goodness, if there's ever a time when we were pushed to the absolute limit on that, it's 2020. Here's the thing, though. Even in a pandemic (including being locked down in one), there are still things that you can do to keep yourself from living a ho-hum life where you feel like you are doing the same damn thing, day in and day out. Cook different meals. Take different routes to places you need to go. Hit up a site like Skillshare to take a class. If you've got a boo, try some new sex positions. Update a room in your house. Try a different hairstyle. Hell, paint your toes a different color.

While it does require a little bit of forethought and effort, another way to break out of the valley of stagnation is to make the decision to attempt something new or different every day. It doesn't have to be anything huge. It could simply be a new flavor of ice cream or a music genre or era that you've never considered before.

People who live a rich and fulfilling life can often look back on all kinds of memories. They created them by trying out a variety of things. For you, there's no time like the present, sis.

3. Are You Right Where You Were this Time Last Year?


While actually all of these questions are worthy of pulling out your journal and doing a little writing on, this one really needs a couple of pages. The reason why I say that is because, in order to get to the root of this particular question, it's a good idea to break your life up into categories—professionally, personally, relationally, spiritually, financially, when it comes to your health, your goals and your desires…as it relates to all of these things, are you in the same place that you were, just 12 short months ago? If your answer is basically "yes", in any of these things, that is another clear sign that you're stagnant on some level.

One of the best things about time is it helps us to evaluate, process and hopefully heal and move forward. When it comes to certain people, places, things and especially ideas, I can clearly pinpoint how I'm in a much different head and heart space now than I was this time last year. In every area of your life, you should be seeing progress. If you can't say that about something or someone, it's a clear indication that it's time to do some serious re-evaluating and, where need me, some much needed shifting as well. Again, everything should be showing signs of growth, on some level. If they're not, there is a level of stagnation going on.

4. When’s the Last Time You Took a (Real) Risk?


Back when I wrote the article, "Are You A 'Comfort Zone Addict'?", a point that I brought up in it is, if the word "risk" is basically like a cuss word to you, that's a pretty telling sign that you probably are an addict in this area. Contrary to popular belief, "risk" isn't a bad word. It's all about calculating your risks beforehand. What I mean by that is, for example, having sex with a new partner without using a condom? That's a pretty dumb and dangerous risk. Being open to going on a date with someone who isn't your traditional type, at the recommendation of a friend that you know and trust, that is a risk worth trying out.

Most of the best things that have ever happened to me, they came as the direct result of stepping out on faith and attempting something that I was a little afraid to do and seemed a little crazy on the surface. Matter of fact, I'm actually celebrating my 20th year of not working in an office and making most of my money from writing as we speak.

Stagnant people don't do risks. Successful people take them often. The kind of person you ultimately want to be will help you to decide if you should take more risks in your own life—or not.

5. Do You Live Your Life for Others?


Y'all, don't even get me started on where I would be right now if I had taken the unsolicited/borderline controlling advice of my parents, teachers or a lot of the church folks who were once in my life. I can tell you for sure that I'd be working a job that I hate, married to a man who I settled for and spiritually stagnant like a big mug. Man, if I could forewarn every high school senior, I would alert them to the fact that it can be quite the bumpy road to transition out of doing what adults in your life tell you to do vs. learning to listen to your own voice, gut instinct and conscience so that you can do what is best for you—whether they think so or not.

Hear me when I say that one of the ways you will DEFINITELY end up stagnant is if your life consists of doing what others expect of you or making others happy at the expense of your own joy, self-fulfillment and peace of mind. In fact, one of the worst things that any of us could ever do is allow others to manipulate us into thinking that only living our life the way they see fit is the route to go. NOPE. 9.6 times outta 10, that's what will have you feeling all kinds of lost while ending up being all types of resentful. You can't grow and progress by being or doing what others expect of you. They've got their own life and, real talk, if they were trying to live theirs to the fullest, they wouldn't have time to be all up on your business anyway.

Wisdom, maturity and even humility teaches that yes, advice can be good. But you don't owe ANYONE the right for them to determine the paths you should take or the choices you need to make. It's selfish AF for them to try and make you believe otherwise. If you want to thrive, you've gotta cut the training wheels off from others and walk this thing out on your own. Are you doing that? If you're not—when will you start?

6. Do You LOVE or Just “Like” Your Life?


Let me just say, off top, that loving your life doesn't mean that everything is easy breezy or that there aren't challenges. In order to do this writing thing, basically full-time, there are many financial sacrifices that I've had to make. MANY. But man—to be able to work from home, set my own hours, write exactly what I want to without compromising my values, principles or myself? And then when I'm not writing on relationships, to be able to help people with theirs, and then turn around and help other folks birth their children (because I'm also a doula)? I promise you that there isn't one night when I don't sleep in perfect peace, when it comes to the life path that I am on. There really isn't.

This is why I vehemently say that another sign that you're stagnant is if you can't reflect on the current state of your own life and be able to say the same thing—that you LOVE it! Not just that it's "cool" or "OK" but you are really enjoying what you're currently doing (including how you're doing it) and that you're super excited about what's to come (because you're constantly coming up with ways to top yourself).

If you can't look at yourself in the mirror and smile, each and every morning about your world, there is some stagnation going on because remember—stagnation is a lack of advancement and feeling like things are dull and sluggish for you.

The good news is you have the power to change all of this. Sure, you might not be able to quit your job now, get into the kind of relationship that you desire now or cultivate the type of world that you've always dreamed of…right now. What you can do, though, is start planning. You can stop just letting life happen to you and start putting your energy into creating the one that you want.

I was just telling someone recently that I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the turn of this century. That was 20 years ago and, in the grand scheme of things, it all went by pretty damn fast. My point? Life is too short and you've got too much within you to settle for stagnation. Decide, TODAY, that it's time to invest in what will grow and develop every facet of your life. Because, as any abandoned cup of water can attest to—stagnation stinks. Period.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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