“It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for 18 years.” – Troy Maxson in the Movie “Fences” (played by Denzel Washington)
I wrote an article in March discussing the concept of "The Sunken Place" as was portrayed in the movie "Get Out". I referred to The Sunken Place as being a mind control process that conditions Black people to accept a marginalized status and continually choose to go into the back doors of life. Jordan Peele, the film’s director, tweeted in the aftermath of the film that “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.”
This piece will lay out some of the characteristics of a "Frozen Place" that many people find themselves in on their career journeys. The Frozen Place is when a person feels like they are stuck in a certain position or station and unable to progress. They may stay "frozen" for years with little to no upward mobility or growth. In the Frozen Place, career stagnation is the norm. There are those who have not been able to advance despite their hard work and education. They, like Troy in the movie Fences, feel stuck in place.
There are those people who encounter glass doors where they are denied access to positions regardless of their education, experience, and credentials. The doors are made of glass because they can see others with an equivalent or lower levels of qualifications gaining access to opportunities in institutions and organizations that they could not. For those who do get in the door, there may be glass ceiling that restricts how high they can climb.
Those individuals who are in the Frozen Place may end up feeling unfulfilled and may seek other often destructive ways to fill the void. Their life doesn't come close to meeting the aspirations and expectations that they once had. Eventually, the disappointment of not meeting their expectations can take a toll on the person. The result is often a perpetually negative attitude and outlook that ends up causing them to sink deeper into a mental abyss.
The Frozen Place makes people feel like they have no upward mobility. Many occupants of this space have stopped trying to live out their ambitions and have settled into an unenthusiastic life of mundanity and mediocrity. They feel that no matter what they do, they're going nowhere. This may result in a complete loss of enthusiasm for their job. These individuals go into a zombie-like state when they enter their workplaces.
They just go through the motions every day and go home. Their motivation has all but ceased. There is really no career path in the minds of these individuals. They have learned to suppress their ambitions and muffle their dreams. The fire that they may have once had has been extinguished. They are increasingly susceptible to being paralyzed by fear, crushed by roadblocks, and frozen by pessimism.
People in the Frozen Place are likely feel powerless and totally at the mercy of their employer. They will sit in dead-end jobs for years because they don’t feel like they can get anything else. They see the number of people who are unemployed and feel a sense of gratitude for just having a job, but this limited satisfaction causes them to just settle for where they are and ignore their dreams and passion.
The Frozen Place encapsulates a perceived inability to escape one’s social location and positioning. Social positions refer to who is participating and who is not as well as the level of participation in terms of who is allowed to move up. Even if they like the mission of the organization or the entity, they may feel like they have to leave it in order to achieve any semblance of self-actualization where they feel like they are operating in their gifts and maximizing their talent.
The Frozen Place can create an exaggerated sense of contentment and comfort in some cases. Those who are frozen are typically afraid of change. These people feel safe in their roles and don’t want to “rock the boat”. Comfort, however, can lead to stagnation after a period of time. Individuals may feel that if they venture out, then they will fail.
There is also a segment of people who once were “go getters”, but have stopped striving for more over the course of time. The Frozen Place is not necessarily where you are positioned, but it is complete acceptance of your position. You are in the Frozen Place when you have stopped striving.
Institutions can help individuals thaw out of their Frozen Place by providing them with some “antifreeze”. They can clarify potential career paths and offer multiple avenues for advancement. People that occupy Frozen Places may also need to go back to school to get new skill sets to help to unfreeze themselves. Many of them have the ability, but they are waiting for someone to give them permission to use it. There are unnecessary restrictions that they put on themselves.
The best antifreeze is options and versatility. The ability to take advantage of opportunities in a number of different arenas is vital because a person can always get frozen out of one particular area. When one avenue is blocked then it is necessary to turn onto other streets that also go in the direction of one’s desired destination.
If you are in the Frozen Place, it's not too late to change your mindset in order to pull out buried knowledge, skills, and ability that may be buried and guide it in the right direction. You have the capacity and opportunity to defrost yourself out and run toward your dreams.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is a Scholar and Activist