Breaking Out of a Rut

“Life is not a dress rehearsal.”  Kathleen Flinn.

I find it’s much easier to slip into a rut than break out of it.  After all, for most of us, once we enter the working world, a large part of our daily schedule is set.  If we work late or long hours, that dominant part of our day throws the rest into a familiar pattern.  Get up, go to the office, work, work, work , come home, eat dinner, sleep.  Breakfast and /or lunch may factor in, or if you’re a once a day eater like my husband (so unhealthy!) they may not.  Going to the gym or exercising might be a daily entry in our rut, or if you are like many Americans, it may not.  On the weekends, we fall into similar ruts, often preoccupied with running errands and doing laundry, or even working still more. 

While work is certainly one aspect and experience of most everyone’s lives, and for some the most rewarding, I don’t think it should be everything.  After all, there is life outside that office window or cubicle wall.  There are new tastes, new smells, new sensations and new experiences, big and small just waiting to be discovered.  But how can we open ourselves up to those opportunities and experiences ever, much less every day, if we’re putting in 40 or 60 hour work weeks? 

I’ve found many ways, but it takes work, planning, openness, sometimes a little sense of adventure, and the realization that even little things lead to a richer, more well-rounded life.  Here are a few things that work for me.

Shake up the workweek. 

  • Meet friends for happy hour at a new bar or an old favorite.  Connecting with friends and family leads to a richer life, and some articles I’ve read indicate it also leads to a healthier life.
  • Take a class one night a week.  Have you always wanted to learn French?  How about Salsa?  Creative Writing?  Pottery?  Check out the website of your community college and its offerings.  For a relatively modest fee you could learn a language, belly dancing or the history of wine once a week.
  • Try something new for dinner.  If you always order take-out try cooking.  One of my go to books for a fast weeknight dinner is Cooking Light’s Super fast Suppers, which makes turning out a healthy, yummy meal in 30 minutes or less a reality.  If you really want to go out, try someplace new, a different restaurant, or better yet a different restaurant in a different neighborhood.  Try new foods.
  • Avoid the TV.  Read a book, make a phone call to family or a friend, or spend more time making and/or eating your meal.  You’ll be amazed at all the time you suddenly have on your hands.

Go outside your comfort zone.  Always thought about skydiving – do it!  Want to learn ballet but embarrassed you’ll be a dismal failure?  Everyone in the beginning classes feels the same way, get over it and have fun.  Travel to a non-Western country, preferably someplace they don’t speak English.  Travel solo.

Make the seemingly impossible, possible.  Yes, this suggestion is broad.  But here’s an example.  Not the only example, but one of my own.  Last year we were invited to India to attend the wedding of a good friend’s sister.  My husband’s reaction?  Of course we can’t go.  It’s too far, we can’t leave work for that long, it’s India.  My reaction?  Hell yeah we’re going!  While in school I had missed my first opportunity to go to India, due to lack of funds, I wasn’t about to let that opportunity pass by again.  So he said maybe and I planned and cajoled.  I won him over with the irrefutable argument that as we were invited to say with our friend’s parents in Delhi it was an opportunity to do what he always wanted, immerse ourselves in and experience the day-to-day culture of the place we were visiting instead of just playing tourist.  Plus staying with friends would make the trip more cost-effective.  (I also thought we could book our plane tickets with miles, silly me).  3 weeks later, we had a one month long trip planned – something unheard of for people in our profession – almost three weeks in India (Delhi, Agra and Rajastan) and 10 days in Paris.  Our jobs were still waiting for us when we returned home and nothing had fallen apart – indeed, there were not even any frantic calls and only one frantic e-mail (quickly handled, from Pairs) while we were away.  To say we enjoyed our trip was an understatement.  From the traditional Indian wedding and all of its attendant rituals, to briefly living in Delhi, traveling through Rajastan, and living in an apartment in the heart of Paris, our experiences opened our eyes to new cultures, new tastes, new sounds (the din of Delhi is impossible to describe)and new understandings.  Our experiences are irreplaceable.  We wouldn’t have had them though, if we had stuck with my husband’s original reaction, of “it’s just not possible.”

Say YES.  Opportunities come our way often, whether we recognize them as such or not.  Whether it’s traveling to a new destination, trying a new cuisine or a new restaurant, or just saying to a friend, “Sure, I’ll try out ballroom dancing with you,” every yes, brings you a new piece of that outside world.  Many of my most memorable experiences (India, New Year’s in Vegas with friends, learning ballroom dancing) have come from just saying yes.  Barring illegality, or serious danger, there are few reasons for saying no, when opportunity comes a knockin.  

For me, I try to live my life with one constant question in mind: If I say no, will I later say “What if?”  After all, “life is not a dress rehearsal.”

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