How to Escape from the Rut

April 9, 2018 | Aubrey Wiete | Human Capital Institute (HCI)
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When it rains, it pours - especially if you’ve been anywhere in the Midwest recently. And when it pours, driving becomes a bit treacherous. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, literal or otherwise.

Personal ruts are tricky; they develop slowly but quickly suck the energy and enthusiasm out of a situation. Sometimes the cause is hard to pinpoint: a lack of development, an absentee manager, an undefined role, but the result is eerily similar. You feel stagnant, disconnected from your work not because you have too little to do, but because you are no longer inspired by it.

So, what can you do?

Six months ago, my husband surprised me with a violin, even though my career and professional aspirations have little to do with music. But, that was kind of the point. It is frighteningly easy to fall victim to the chaos that appears to orchestrate our professional lives. The rut is real. I was close to that precipice - working late, having dreams about client projects, and growing resentful about my time being devoured by all work and no play.

Enter: violin.

I spent a few years in grade school playing violin for the elementary orchestra when I was proudly “not the best kid in class, but not the worst.” My background made playing the violin again that much sweeter, especially after so much time had passed. We can forget what we are capable of so quickly, and we take our muscle memory for granted. When I picked up the violin for the first time in nearly 20 years, I unconsciously moved it to my shoulder, my fingers hanging loosely as I bowed across the strings. In 10 minutes, I was plucking away, humming the mantra of every childhood music class: “Hot Crossed Buns.”

In the months since, I have rediscovered a passion not just for music, but for learning something new. I appreciate the discipline I have as an adult that 4th grade Aubrey struggled with maintaining. (Yes, Mom, I actually practice today!) And along the way, a new creative energy has been released. I feel an inherent motivation to learn more, to dive into the Wikipedia rabbit hole and read up on Antonius Stradivarius, and climb through the YouTube maze to watch tutorials and online violin lessons during my lunch breaks.

None of this is to say it is easy. There have been days when my fingertips throb and my arm feels like it might fall off after long practices and repeated bowing. I have rediscovered my very poor ability to keep rhythm. My dog, on more than one occasion, has left the room while I have scratched and squeaked out “musical” notes. But in spite of it all, I feel empowered to learn. I’m curious about ways to improve, and I’m excited that I have the opportunity.

I think it is safe to say I will never be a violin virtuoso. But exploring something so explicitly outside my day job has awakened creativity in me that had long been dormant. I have something different to focus on when I go home at night, and goals that are wholly driven by what I want to achieve.

It is human nature to learn, but sometimes we allow learning to become a chore when we really need to see it as an opportunity, an escape from the rut. Look outside your professional bubble and find something that stokes your passion. Invest your time in that. Allow it to nurture you, offering you different ways of thinking and doing and being. I’d be happy to provide the soundtrack, as long as you don’t mind an elementary violin version of “Hot Crossed Buns.”