Actions steps for those stuck in a rut (career wise, life wise, whatever).
I’m one of those people who would set audacious goals, but never take steps towards achieving them. I would tell friends and family of my big plans for change and think about how awesome it would be to accomplish such feats. But nothing ever results from it but wasted breath.
I’ll give you an example. I used to work in a corporate job I hated. Colleagues were toxic. The work was menial. I mulled over other opportunities to pursue: I could return to study a postgraduate degree, start an online business in marketing, start a writing career, learn to invest, whatever.
All ideas engaged and excited me. I could see the potential — anything was better than what I was currently doing.
But when you’ve always been a dreamer — and never much a doer — ideas never get to see the light of day.
I continued to slug it out at my day job for the next 2 years, suffering in a toxic work culture, speculating on the “what if’s” and complaining to anyone who would listen about how stuck in a rut and restricted I felt.
“I hate what I’m doing, but I don’t have the luxury to leave my job.”
“I don’t have time to pursue anything else on the side.”
“I want write for a living, but I don’t think I’m good enough anymore.”
Eventually I knew I couldn’t possibly endure this cycle for the rest of my life. I had to make a change. But my situation wasn’t going to do it for me — so I had to.
Below are the action steps I took to break out of my rut.
Action Step 1: Break out of the victim mentality.
The first step to escape from your rut is to stop making yourself a victim of your circumstances.
I for example kept making excuses instead of doing something about my situation. I kept believing that my circumstances were the reason for holding me back — that I had no time, no skill, that my colleagues were the reason I felt shit every day and that my managers where the reason I had no meaningful work to do.
I was trapped choosing stability over happiness — and my mindset was the reason for keeping me there.
We are all conditioned to believe our situations are the cause of our helplessness — that it is out of our control. We indulge in victim speak simply because it’s easier to blame the situation rather than deal with it head on.
What if we could reframe this victim speak? What if we changed our thoughts to say that we can control our situation and can take the first step towards pursuing our dreams and goals?
Realise that this mentality exists within all of us, and learning to overcome it is the first step to breaking out of our rut.
The next step is learning to persevere and move forward in spite of it.
Action Step 2: Move forward, even if you don’t know where you’re going.
We often feel stuck in a rut because we believe progress should be in an upward, linear trajectory. Going sideways, backwards and even flat-lining is a sign of woeful attempts to meet goals, and another sign we are never meant to step outside our boundaries.
For this reason, many of us continue to remain in pointless relationships or stagnant careers, simply because the road to a happier life is too volatile to reach.
But that focus needs to be shifted. Progress is moving forward regardless of whether or not you know the end outcome. No matter how small my steps were, or in which direction I landed, I kept moving — and any step was a step towards leaving my rut for good.
“When we are stuck in a rut we are being invited to grow and expand.”
― Dana Arcuri
In the end, I took a gap year after quitting my corporate job. I naively thought travel would enable me to find myself. I then attempted to start an online business with a friend, but failed to get it off the ground, and returned to corporate life to realise it wasn’t for me 6 months in.
I had no idea what I was doing or where I was meant to go. Meanwhile I had friends around me continuously moving up in their careers and lives — some earning promotions, others moving half way around the world to live.
I was both lost and found, exploring new opportunities — some of which piqued my interests (blogging on Medium, learning Korean, service design), and others I knew I would never touch again (improv).
My journey thus far has indeed NOT been linear, and has definitely NOT been upward — and I will continue to sidestep or fall behind.
But at the same time, I move forward.
I am following my own path, even if I continue to see others around me move up. There will be moments of self-doubt about where I’m headed. I have but a small compass to point me forward. Everyone else is on their own journey – and I should focus on mine.
Take small steps – even if it’s not in an upward manner towards your audacious goal. We end up moving forward even if we’re not really sure we’re where going. This is key to unsticking yourself from your rut.
“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
– John Maxwell, Failing Forward.
Action Step 3: Set audacious goals, but lead with habits.
Having grand, audacious goals isn’t necessarily bad thing. If it excites you and ignites your ambition to achieve something beyond what you currently have, then by all means, set audacious goals.
It only becomes counterproductive when we set such enormous goals that we become stuck in our rut and confused in how to start.
When I first decided to write, I had grand goals of setting up a website and winning large clients who would pay $$$.
But the only thing I ever did to kickstart this dream was to write it in a notebook, highlight it and shelve it away. I expected it to become a reality on its own.
Clearly, I only had the audacity to dream big.
As the saying goes, nothing good comes to those who wait. I had to set aside time to write, ensuring I allowed enough time to flow into deep work. I woke earlier to hit the gym, making it to the café to write before I started my day job. I had to actively form habits to reach my goals — simply setting them wasn’t enough. It had to become a part of my life.
Habit-forming tasks don’t have to be huge, but it needs to be consistent. Once I stopped trying to see the end goal, I began to enjoy the process. Before I knew it, I had formed a steady habit in writing at the local café. I fell into the “flow” and without realising had started to amass a writing portfolio — one where I could eventually show friends and family, and someday be able to wow clients.
Remove the pressure from having to think about how to get to the end result, and lead with habits. The rest will come.
The key to getting yourself out of a rut — whether with career, life or whatever — is to persevere despite your mindset. Audacious goals are only audacious because we think they’re unattainable. Now it’s your turn realise your potential. Trust your ability in making your goals a reality. Fail forward.