Getting Into and Out of a Rut

I have been through two ruts in my life. If I am almost 30 years old right now, at my current rate in my adult life of one every eight years, I will go through five or six more. I do not want that, so it’s worth delving into their causes to avoid them happening in the future.

Firstly, let me describe what a rut looks like when it happens. At its simplest it is an absence of motivation. Not to the extent of being bed-ridden, but more drifting through life. Nothing typifies this more than my second year of uni where I scraped through with two 50s (EXACTLY 50, not in the 50s) in one semester. I was putting in the absolute minimum effort, which at the time I claimed to be in the aspiration of efficiency. With this gained spare time, however, I didn’t party or conduct the experiments of youth, instead taking Bayer Leverkusen to virtual Champions League titles being my major achievement.

The cause of this first rut was quite simple: I didn’t know what brought me joy in life, or at least was woefully misguided in what I thought did. Going to a huge school and being on the quieter side I always assumed I was an introvert. Things like gaming and staying home to do classes online fitted in that box I had put myself in.

There were two key realisations I had when I was twenty and took a year off from uni. I get immense joy out of meeting new people, and I have the ability to make different people feel comfortable. Whether it was the fourteen year old from Harris Farm I would stack fruit with or the seventy year old Austrian woman I had dinner with in Myanmar, these interactions made life interesting for me.

The second rut was partly onset by the exogenous factor (outside of my control) of COVID, which took away the part of my life I identified at 20. There were no social events in which to meet new people and I couldn’t go into the office to hear about the latest book a colleague was reading or discuss the latest failings of the Australian Cricket Team*.

There were still many substitutes during lockdown, however, so to completely blame COVID would be shirking responsibility. This dullness continued when things opened up as well, as I let it seep into all areas of my life.

There is a rudimentary conclusion to take from this sample size of two: find out what makes you happy in life and then do those things. The situation much of us are in right now is a persuasive example of this basic philosophy. Many of the things which bring us fulfilment are not available, so we need to actively seek out new pursuits which can provide us with contentment, otherwise we’re inviting the rut in. Tune in next week for the silver lining of lockdown and why now is the best time to take on new things!

                *Be a positive externality

One thing that has been lost in the discussion of working from home are the positive externalities that come with working in a vibrant office.  An externality is when a market interaction has an impact on a third party. When you go into an office you are supplying your labour which is demanded by your employer. Going for a coffee with a colleague or meeting a new starter while making a cuppa make people feel more included and are vital for creating relationships. These are not accounted for in the market, whereas we can more easily put a price on the saved money and time costs of not commuting when working from home, so we gravitate towards focusing on these. There is also a personal lesson in here, if you are a collegial, creative or helpful colleague then you are yourself a positive externality! One powerful reminder of this for myself was during an exercise at work where we gave each other notes saying nice things to each other. Yes, it’s quite cheesy, but one person wrote to me: “thankyou Brendan for talking to me”. That is how easy it is to have an impact on someone.

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