What to do when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place


Kevin Mangelschots

Sometimes, there’s just no winning in life. In some instances, no matter what decision you make, you simply can’t come out on top. That’s why it’s about learning to dance in the rain, rather than waiting for the storm to pass.

When you’re put in a bad spot, then even the best available choice you make can still feel like an overall net loss.

This is what we call being caught between a rock and a hard place. To explain briefly already, it means that we’re faced with two evenly matched hard, and unpleasant choices.

Illustration of a man being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Choose the best available decision

When you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, it’s best to choose the decision, or solution that will be the least painful, and that will give better results in the long run.

Sure, it will most likely still be painful, and not necessarily a good choice, but it will at least be the lesser evil of the two.

At times, we just get dealt a bad hand in life. This is something that can be outside our control, and thus, something that we need to learn to accept.

Try to understand why you got stuck in that bad position in the first place

We all get stuck between a rock and a hard place from time to time, that’s almost inevitable. But, some people seem to get caught up in bad situations a lot more than other people.

Can we chalk it up to simply bad luck? I don’t think so. Although, luck can certainly play a factor.

Some people have a tendency to unknowingly put themselves in bad spots. And when we aren’t aware of our bad habits and our proclivity to put ourselves in bad situations, then that means that we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Until we decide to learn, that is.

Accept that the best available solution will still hurt

Just because you choose the best available solution doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a “good” decision. It just means that you did the best you could with the available information and options at hand.

Therefore, it is possible that the choice you made is still extremely painful and will feel like a loss to you.

Sometimes, the optimal choice we can make in a given situation still isn’t considered a win. And we must learn to accept that at times, the best obtainable solution still feels like an overall net loss.

Accept that the best available solution will still have detrimental results

When you’re caught in a bad position, making even the best possible accessible choice will still lead to detrimental results.

In this case, it’s about picking your poison. You have to select the solution that will give you the best results, while simultaneously limiting the detrimental effects of your decision.

Once you’re put in a bad spot, and you have to decide, then it’s not about making a choice that feels like winning anymore. It’s about limiting the negative and destructive aspects of your decision.

Try to put yourself in a position of power by having multiple options at your disposal

This won’t immediately help you to make that hard decision in the present, but it will assist you to make better choices in hard situations in the future. This will increase your overall quality of life as well.

When we improve the amount of choices we have, then we can pick which option we select.

And when we have multiple options at our disposal, then that means we’re in control. And control equals power. We can actively avoid putting ourselves in bad positions because we have so many good options to pick from.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What does, “stuck between a rock and a hard place” mean?

Being stuck between a rock and a hard place means that you are faced with two evenly matched hard, dangerous, unpleasant choices or situations.
The avoiding of one decision/situation guarantees running into pain and trouble from the other choice.
We typically use this quote when we’re put in a difficult situation with no hopes of winning or gaining anything beneficial.
This means that it’s an idiom. It’s not to be taken literally. Although that is technically and unfortunately also an unlikely, but deadly possibility.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place origin

Image of a rock lying on the ground.

The quote first arose in America, somewhere during the early 1900s. It was used to depict a conflict between the mining companies in Bisbee, Arizona, and the miners who were excavating copper.

The copper miners asked for better working conditions and services, but the mining companies rejected their demands. The mining companies declined to provide them with better working conditions.

Due to the mining companies’ unwillingness to comply to their demands, the copper miners were left with two bitter choices. Either they proceeded to mine in the same dire conditions (a rock), or they quit mining, but had to face unemployment and poorness (a hard place) as a result.

The quote became more popular in the 1930s during the great depression. Back then, many individuals found themselves caught between a rock and hard place, since times were tough.

Is stuck between a rock and a hard place a metaphor?

Illustration of a tree being a metaphor for peace.

Yes, being stuck between a rock and a hard place is a metaphor.

This means that it’s a figure of speech that depicts a situation, action, or object in a manner that shouldn’t be taken literally, since it isn’t literally true.

A metaphor can help to explain an idea or thought, and can aid us to make a comparison.

Examples of being stuck between a rock and a hard place

One example of being stuck between a rock and a hard place is when you get offered the job of your dreams. The pay is great, and you’ll even get a promotion.

But, to get that job, you’ll have to move to another country. In this instance, this means leaving your long-term girlfriend, and friends, behind.

You’re caught between a rock and a hard place because you can’t win. You either take the new job, and lament the fact that you lost your girlfriend and friends, or stay at your current job, but weep because you didn’t get to practice the job of your dreams.

Sometimes there’s just no winning indeed.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place synonym

A synonym for stuck between a rock and a hard place is caught between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps you’ve also heard of the phrase, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

While the wording might be different, the meaning remains exactly the same.


Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

Being caught between a rock and a hard place is a rough spot to be in. It is something we must actively try to avoid.

But at times, it is unavoidable to get caught in a bad spot. When we do, and there’s no way out, then the next best thing we can do is to simply accept that painful fact, and trying to take the best available solution with the accessible information at hand.

Final note

Try to avoid putting yourself in bad situations by having the advantage of having access to multiple choices.

Having multiple options allows us to choose the best addressable option for ourselves. It also makes sure that we don’t get put in bad spots we don’t want to be in.

Always make sure to prime yourself to have access to multiple choices. And be aware of the fact that life throws multiple opportunities at you, you just have to be aware enough to see them, and daring and willing enough to take them.

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