Get out of your career, creative, or lifestyle rut
The body and mind are incredible things. Miracles if you think about it. We live our lives in these spongy and somewhat ridged bags of flesh and sinew. We go about our day making the best use of our faculties.
But every now and again, a global pandemic hits, and you’re left confronting your body and mind’s limitations. Sometimes you just find yourself in a rut.
It doesn’t feel good to be in a rut. You might feel a bit flabby and a bit unmotivated. Nothing seems interesting and the thought of trying a new hobby sounds, bleh.
That’s where I was pre-pandemic — in a rut, the entirety of 2019.
Call them mindsets, tenets, or life principles, but over the past year, I’ve adopted five new frameworks of looking at specific areas of my life that have helped me to grow mentally, financially, and physically this past year. They are:
- Put your mind and body first
- Accept that your career is fluid and not fixed
- Believe your craft has a purpose
- Realize how you think about people says more about you
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Do I assume everyone will benefit from these five frameworks? Of course not, each person is different and prioritizes differently. As Ray Dalio says, “the happiest people discover their own nature and match their life to it.”
But when life hits you in the face, sometimes you just need to grasp onto something to keep you from falling.
1. Put your mind and body first
“The brain is you. Everything else is just plumbing and scaffolding.” — Bill Bryson
Let’s start with the mind, shall we?
The brain is not a muscle, we can’t make it bigger with some catechetics or bench presses. It’s a network of neural fibers and our best hope is to connect as many as we can in our lifetime.
I take a simple approach: Read. Write. Limit distractions. Go for walks.
Reading helps me absorb new information. Writing helps me to collect and organize said information. Limiting distractions keeps my mind active. And going for walks staves off anxiety.
The body, or all the rest of the plumbing and scaffolding, also needs attention. For that I take another simple approach: Eat real food, vigorously move my body a few times a week, and drink a lot of water.
For the past year, I’ve eaten a lot of proteins and picked up heavy objects. It’s no surprise that my body has (noticeable) muscles and less fat on it.
I can also run around without wheezing and spitting up phlegm.
Why all the focus on my mind and body this year? Because even after my kids are grown and off starting their own lives, this mind and body are all I’ll have left. It, and not anyone nor anything else, will carry me the rest of the way.
2. Your career is fluid, not static
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” — Kurt Cobain
Here’s a question no one asked me when I was growing up: What do you want to be when you grow up? Feel free to say more than one thing.
I thought you had to pick one thing and be that one thing. Not anymore.
When my 5-year-old says he wants to be a “Firefighter Astronaut” I have no qualms with that — except for the fact that space is a vacuum and thus incapable of fires, but he’ll figure that out eventually.
Your career, like most things in life, is fluid. There’s no rule saying you need to be one thing. I have a degree in industrial engineering. I worked for 5 years as a supply chain analyst. On the side, I wrote a cooking blog with my wife, produced a podcast, wrote books, and dabbled in personal coaching. All before leaving my full-time job to become a stay-at-home dad/homeschool teacher.
You can pivot to a new career. You can even have a 5-to-9 outside of your 9-to-5. You can test, experiment, or even go back to school.
All of this is to say: stop complaining about your career, do something about it.
3. Believe your craft has a purpose
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” — William James
For a long time, I struggled with the point of all this. When people asked, “what do you do?” I was embarrassed to give them an answer. What do I say? That I write articles online and stay home with the kids?
The reason I was so embarrassed was that I didn’t believe what I was doing had any significant purpose. In my head there was this special club reserved for adults who contributed to society in meaningful ways. It felt like middle school when the cool kids ate lunch at the cool kid table.
I had a change of heart this year. It was partially inspired by my new favorite creative, Taika Waititi. Taika is known for making silly films. But he doesn’t see it that way:
“They used to make fun of comedy. They used to dismiss it because you know ‘It’s just a silly film about silly ideas, but I know that my films are about very important things.”
I used to think I was put on this earth to make a big impression. If I didn’t become famous or leave behind some grand legacy then what was the point?
Then I realized how small I am compared to the earth and how small it is compared to the rest of the universe and I saw something oddly profound in that. Our existence is an opportunity. My existence, your existence, your roommate’s existence, and their dentist’s existence. There’s 7.5 billion of us, each given a sliver of space-time and a body to do something, anything.
At the very least, we’re here to say: Here I am.
Your craft, however silly or inconsequential it may seem, has a role to play. You might never find out what that role is. This isn’t middle school anymore, there isn’t a cool kids table. Don’t let anyone tell you you aren’t important because of what you do.
4. How you think about people says more about you
“Don’t feel sorry for yourself, only assholes do that.” — Haruki Murakami
I had a conversation with someone who on paper was 10,000 times more successful than me. He must be smarter than me, I thought to myself. He’s smarter, and more cunning, and better than me.
When his video feed fired up and I saw an ordinary dude looking back at me, I hesitated whether I was on the right call. I was and we began to talk.
This guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, I thought to myself.
Before this year I assumed anyone who was more “successful” than myself was smarter than me. Not more entrepreneurial or lucky or have more time on their hands, smarter.
After my call with big successful dude, I called a friend of mine and admitted what I failed to see all along: I was insecure about my smarts.
When you step into a room at a party, what do you see? Do you see a room of beautiful people, people with perfect skin, people who are better dressed, people who are healthier, more personable, taller?
How you perceive other people says more about you than you realize. What you see in others — what you think you see — are the things you fail to see in your own life.
I’m an intelligent person. I know I’m an intelligent person. But I’m also competitive. Without grades or class rankings, I don’t have benchmarks to measure myself against other people’s smarts. And yes, I have tendencies for vanity as well.
Next time you catch yourself thinking of all the ways someone else is better than you, pause and turn it back on yourself. You can’t change other people, but you can change how you look at yourself.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
“A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
When I walk into Target and I don’t know where something is, I meander until I find it on my own. Maybe it’s a pride thing or that I’m allergic to people dressed in red shirts and khakis but I have to find it on my own. I waste too much time because I’m too afraid to ask for help.
This happens elsewhere in my life. When I have a problem on my hand, only I can fix it — or so I think. As it turns out, other humans are great at solving problems too. We are social creatures. We evolved and survived in packs. We need each other.
We just have to ask.
Better yet, get people involved early and often. Before quitting my full-time job nearly four years ago, I hopped on a phone call every week with three other guys who wanted to do the same.
Four years later we still talk weekly and help each other out. Invest in relationships. Help people solve their problems and ask for help when you need it.
Whatever it is you are trying to do in life, you don’t have to do it alone.