• Advice

3 ways to break out of a rut

It happens to almost every freelancer at some point; things are going along swimmingly, when suddenly, you just feel… blah.

Tasks that used to excite you bore you. You don’t feel like you have any forward momentum. You aren’t miserable, exactly – but you aren’t very happy, either.

You, my friend, are in a rut.

It’s okay! The good news is that there are 3 easy ways to kickstart crawling out of a rut – and none of them involve a shovel.

Do something that scares you

We tend to fall into ruts for positive or negative reasons: either we’re so comfortable in our routines that we become complacent, or we’ve essentially resigned ourselves to boredom and unhappiness.

EITHER extreme can be stultifying – and either way, the solution is to shake things up.

Think of something that would be scary to try. This may be as simple as pursuing a dream client that’s “out of your league” (you may be surprised), or as complex as looking into a career change.

Then, experiment with your fear!

Join the nation's largest group representing the new workforce (it's free!)

Become a member

Commit to really trying out new things, especially things that make you feel uneasy (within reasonable safety limits, of course – don’t hurt yourself or others).

Tell supportive friends and family about your intentions; it’s a good way to stop yourself from backing out.

Lean into your discomfort – at the very least, you’ll be moving out of your safe but oh-so-unsatisfying rut.

Try to learn a (difficult) new skill

I am a firm believer that we begin to become old and boring the day that we stop learning. Fortunately, this is a fixable problem.

If you find that you are effortlessly the master of your workspace, that every task is easy and unstimulating... you probably need to challenge yourself more.

Are there any skills that you lack, that would take you to the next level?

If not, can you go deeper into your work – challenge yourself to do better, more profound, or more interesting work?

If that’s not a possibility, think outside of your career box – is there anything you’ve always wanted to try, that you’ve been too scared to take on?

I don’t care if you choose to learn a new language, master a software program, or try out line-dancing.

If you’ve always wanted to learn the fiddle, now is the perfect time.

Learning a new skill is frustrating, scary, and potentially embarrassing. It is also FANTASTIC for you – stimulating creativity, unearthing reserves of strength, and opening new pathways in your brain!

The more long-term and complex the skill, the better; mastering a musical instrument is a good example, because it can be a lifelong process.

Pick whatever you like, but if the thought of trying to learn Skill X fills you with longing but makes you fear looking foolish… Skill X is what you should choose.

Find inspiration

When’s the last time you looked at something that really inspired you – something that reminded you of the surprising flexibility of limitations, that took your words away?

If you’re currently in a rut, it’s probably been too long.

I don’t know what inspires YOU, personally, because everybody is triggered by different awe-inducing stimuli.

Many people find inspiration in great works of art (try taking in a fantastic piece of theatre, attending a concert, or visiting a museum), but others find a long walk in nature does the trick.

The Internet, for all of its pitfalls, is chock-full of inspirational pieces – from online documentaries to collections of photography.

Excellent books are a classic trigger; as is travel. Even sitting quietly and breathing along with a meditation podcast can help.

If going to the masters doesn’t work, go back to the basics. What makes you happy and fills you with energy?

There’s probably some precious inspiration to be mined there. If that happiness and energy is seeming elusive these days, think back to what made you gleeful and excited when you were a child.

Can you incorporate more of that into your life?

The nice thing about consciously trying to find inspiration and awe in your life is that, eventually, it tends to arise naturally – especially if you can be receptive and non-judgmental with yourself.

Everybody falls into a rut sometimes; the good news is that you can crawl out more easily than you think.

It may be uncomfortable, but this rut is a signal that you’re longing to grow – to learn new things, to scare yourself!

Be kind to yourself as you work your way out of the ditch; it may take a little time. But even attempting to break routines is forward momentum, in and of itself.

Before long, your current rut may soon be a distant memory - because you’ll be on a different, exciting path.

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.