what is a ‘rut’, and what is a ‘plateau’?

A friend told me that his mentor commented on his current position in life as being in a rut. And that he needs to get out of this rut. So I was googling the definition of a rut, and I realised that there are a tonne of articles dedicated to ‘changing your mindset and getting out of a rut’.

A rut is defined as “a habit or pattern of behaviour that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” In other words, if you are doing things habitually but you do not find it dull or unproductive, then it is not a rut. You are on a plateau and it is part of your path to mastery. Also, if you are feeling dull and unproductive but you are constantly changing your methods, just not the results, then you are also not in a rut. You are just trying your best to find out what is a suitable method to use on your life.

Life is strange and also interesting because there is no one method to get ahead, everyone has their own capacities to tolerate the dull stuff and everyone has different abilities. As Chase Jarvis said, there is no one path. What works for him might not work for me, even if we are both on the same job and we have the exact same deliverables. Some of us like to work on teams, some like to bury their heads under piles of research papers, some like to work alone, conduct focus group discussions. I am a mix of everything and that is what makes me effective, because I am constantly bored by things and wanting to try new things until I find something that works really well. Research frankly is not my strength, because sitting alone in a cubicle can get dull. I would rather meet the researchers and ask them what have they discovered so far since they published that article in 2004, and has anyone tried to assassinate them because of what they wrote? Just because I don’t act like other people doesn’t mean I am in a rut, or that I am ‘not good enough’. I just have a different way of living.

Why do people have ruts though. I identify strongly with something that Elizabeth Appell said, which is “the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”. In the past I used to be more afraid of doing things, but after reading ‘mastery’ and ‘mindset’ I guess I am a lot more willing to just do them, and see how it goes. (Although I have to say that going to DG on a Friday night after a full day of school is damn tiring.) But the thing is, I think I am only able to think this way because I am currently not in a ‘rut’. I don’t think my life is dull or boring or the alternative is that it has always been dull and boring and I am only thinking this way because I am too narrow-minded to think of it in another way. Or that I think I am productive just because I am busy, but I don’t actually live or like my life. But isn’t that what life is about. It is about how we process meaning in our daily jobs and habits, even if other people look at the way we like and they turn their nose up at us.

Let’s say my life is indeed dull and boring, how would I know? What is the feeling like? Are there other things that I want to achieve apart from writing/health/business? I know for a fact that I am making some indefinite progress in writing/business, I am not good at it yet, don’t think I will ever be, but I am more self-assured now if someone were to ask me to come up with something on the spot. Because I have that history of practice. What are the other things in my life that I am lacking and I should go and do it, or should the question I am asking be ‘what other parts of my heart have I not explored?’

It seems to me that people are constantly looking outside of their hearts to know what they should be doing next. Climbing the career ladder, buying prettier things, being online all the time. I told my friend that because it is low-grade dissatisfaction, he feels like he is in a rut but because no one else sees it, so he is not accountable to anyone for how far he progresses in dealing with his rut. However he knows that it is not where he wants to be, although he doesn’t know what is his next step, so now he’s kind of in limbo because nothing is attractive enough to be a goal that he can stick to for years, and so everything, measured in short-term milestones, is not a good enough motivator for him to change his life. But from an outsider’s perspective, there’s nothing in his life for me to think that it requires change. Not everything needs to be ‘done’ in order to be good, it can just be enjoyed.

Quite frankly, people telling me ‘just take any other step’- it doesn’t help me because I don’t know what is my next step, and hence I won’t take it. Why would I jump off into the unknown when there are good things to be enjoyed now? I actually had zero inclination to go on internships. It was through reading books then did I realise that I really do want to work with people to make their quality of life better. I want to change things and leave the situation a little better than how it was when I first started. Hence I’m applying to HR and HR consulting.

But had I not read the hundred or so books in year 2 then I might not be doing anything that I am doing now. I needed to get back to my heart, in order to realise that gap between what I know of myself and what I really want to do. Of course, it might just have been a self-hypnosis session where I read and then tada I want to be a writer, or I browse some Instagram photos and then okay, I shall work towards yoga. (I have great hopes that I might be able to start my practice in a few months when my body stops giving me issues.) Or maybe it is just my intuition/heart nudging me to where I should be, that great universe pushing me towards my ultimate aha! moment.

But I now know that ‘doing things’ and ‘achieving things’ doesn’t fulfil that emptiness in my heart- I want to do things that I can be proud of, even if no one else likes them. I hope to always do interesting and challenging things in my career, and in my hobbies. Perhaps because my top strength is Achiever, so I am constantly doing things or moving in the direction where I think I can do interesting things, hence I don’t feel this sense of being ‘stuck’, there are always things to look forward to even as I drag myself to TCM every two weeks. Interesting as in slightly outside of my comfort zone, involving more learning and self-direction, and being able to teach my skillsets to other people.

Even so, I am aware that one day I might look back at this period of my life and then realise that ‘shit, none of my goals got fulfilled’. That is fine too. Because I tried. I know that four years is a long time and I have faith that I might grow as a person- wiser, less anxious, more patient- as I work on my own life path. I emphasize ‘own’ because people will always tell you what to do. Consider their opinions, but don’t eat all of them for breakfast or you will implode.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
― Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall


I was looking at ruts that are not related to individuals and their careers, or hobbies. But family related ruts. To be honest I am very detached from my relatives- if my parents ever turn neurotic, then I am just going to leave. I believe that if people want to stay in my life then at the very least, they must not be adding to my burdens. It is different if the burden is legitimate, like a medical condition or financial distress, then I don’t mind taking up that responsibility. But if that burden is something along the lines of quarreling everyday because I don’t come home before 1am every day, then that’s something I don’t want to take part in. Thankfully my parents are both very occupied in their own personal lives, to the point where I have to remind them that I’m alive and would appreciate some chicken soup on Saturdays. If my mom wasn’t into religion I believe my childhood might have been different- she would definitely be even more controlling than what she already was. And I might not be alive, I would be a gangster or something. Durian-wielding gangster.