It’s been the better part of a year since I have contributed anything to OOYR. As the saying goes, “Life has a habit of getting in the way of your plans.” So I have not been as active on here as I would like. At the same time, this period has been a good opportunity for me to re-evaluate my life, think about my priorities, engage in productive dialogue with friends and colleagues, and observe others and learn about what’s going on in their lives. In other words, what’s my next move?
Is there an underlying theme to all of this? Maybe – but I think you, dear readers, might be able to figure it out better than I can . So, without further ado, here’s what’s been on my mind in recent months:
1. Making a living in the creative world can be tough.
“Writer’s block” is real. All too real, which makes me respect people like Kevin all the more for being able to make a living from his craft.
Writing is not a “one and done” kind of career. Sometimes I’m afraid that certain creative people have the belief that they can get out a best-selling novel and that they’ll be set for life. Yet even the most prolific novelists have to keep coming up with new ideas all the time and put out new work regularly in order to sustain their lifestyle.
By no means am I suggesting that people can’t make a living in the artistic/creative world. But the number of people who can make “big money” from writing, acting or art is incredibly small. If you aren’t constantly pushing yourself, it’s easy to fall into “starving artist” mode. I think it’s best for a lot of artistic people to be doing something else in addition to their art.
2. Many people prefer to remain stuck and unhappy than take a chance on something that might make them happier.
Over the years I’ve come across a fair number of people who have almost become “institutionalized” by their jobs. They don’t appear happy about coming to work. They don’t particularly enjoy what they’re doing. They’re not happy with their bosses or co-workers or clients or customers. And yet, when push comes to shove, they would rather stay in place and be miserable than go and see what else might be out there.
Many of them have remained that way for the past 20 or more years. I get it: change is hard, and doing something different around different people in a different environment can make us fearful and hesitant. Yet sometimes a big change in our lives is exactly what we need in order to find more fulfillment.
It reminds me of the saying: “Getting outside of your comfort zone is the best way to EXPAND your comfort zone.”
3. We don’t have a binary choice between being “well-off and caged” or “free and broke”.
For those of us who have been regular readers at Out Of Your Rut, Kevin’s story of transitioning from “corporate drone” to full-time entrepreneur serves as encouragement and inspiration. As Kevin points out, however, this process did not happen overnight, and it involves a lot of discipline, effort, planning, perseverance, and hard work.
Too often, many people leave their regular, hum-drum jobs behind, only to discover that the world of self-employment is much different than they fantasized about. They then return discouraged, to the path they were on before.
Another blogger that I read online regularly sums up this predicament: “Society makes it easy to either ‘toe the line’, or screw up entirely, and it’s really difficult not to do either one.”
A lot of times that might feel very true. But it CAN be overcome – just remember to do a lot of planning and homework beforehand.
Which leads to my next point…
4. Forget about the idea of “job security” and focus instead on “income security”.
This might not be as much of an issue if you’re a worker with skills that are rare, in high demand, require lots of education, experience, etc. For everyone else, however, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate your position and think about how vulnerable you might potentially be.
Self-help author Steve Pavlina frames the issue like this: how many people would it take to shut off all your income?
For many people, the answer is “one” – their boss. Some of us believe that if we show up to work on time every day, do what needs to be done, and do it well, that we’ll be totally immunized from any bad news from our employers. Yet this is simply not the case.
Whenever one source – be it an employer, corporation, or boss – controls your entire income stream, you are giving that source an enormous amount of control over your financial, and sometimes even your personal life. Diversify your income sources as much as possible!
5. Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us are doing what others expect of us.
Our families, friends, peers, teachers, and counselors hold a lot of sway over our career paths and what we should do with our lives. Many times, we do what we do in order to earn their approval, rather than what will make us happiest. Of course, money is important: we need to pay the bills and meet our living expenses. But we also need to be doing work that gives us a sense of meaning and purpose.
In our culture, we’re divided into two camps on this issue. One side says “follow your passion”; the other says “do what’s practical.”
Might I suggest another way? “Do work that you’re good at and enjoy doing AND will pay you.”
Sometimes we might have to engage in a lot of self-reflection and analysis to realize what that might be. Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, worked in unfulfilling jobs before he got a major break. He asks us to take the “long view” as we move through our working lives:
“I tell you all this because it’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.”
Which leads me to my last point, which is…
6. Look at your entire work history as a learning experience.
Even the detours can give us major insight into what we should be, or not be, doing with our lives. Whenever I’ve been in a job I didn’t like, it forced me to clarify why I had wanted the job in the first place. I also analyzed what specifically I didn’t like about it. Even more important, was deciding what corrective action I needed to take to avoid falling into the same trap in the future.
Being in a bad situation at work can really get you to open your eyes and recognize what it is you are able to put up with and what you can’t. From there, you need to allow yourself to make choices that are better for you in the future.
How about you, readers? What pearls of wisdom can you share with us?