In my experience, one of the main reasons many entrepreneurs seek the freedom of working for themselves is because they crave variety, stimulation, and the ability to grow organically in their career. Employees who are stuck in the 9-5 routine dream of entrepreneurship as a way to set themselves free to the uncharted possibilities of a fabulous life… I know, I used to be one of those employees.
So it comes as a shock to many entrepreneurs when they find themselves stuck in a rut. In fact, many don’t realize it’s a rut at all… we mislabel the symptoms (it’s just fatigue, writer’s block, etc) because we aren’t supposed to be in ruts. We’re the ones living the dream, out in the world under our own steam, calling the shots, making the rules, and working from a cabana in Tahiti if desired.
But ruts happen to everyone – employees and entrepreneurs alike. They are the insidious cross-section of time, routine, and lack of new stimulation. And that perfect storm can happen anywhere and to anyone, whether you’re in your cubicle or in that Tahitian cabana.
When these ruts are allowed to persist for too long, they can be dangerous. They stifle creativity, motivation, urgency, and ambition. They are the antithesis of innovation and expansion.
Good thing there is something we can do about ruts.
The 7,000 Mile Cure
I didn’t realize I was stuck in a rut, and I didn’t realize how negatively it was impacting my success potential… until I was forced out of that rut.
The first ten days of 2012 found me far away from my usual routine-turned-rut as I took my first real vacation in five years to Brazil. For a born-and-bred Boston girl, the land of Samba is a far cry from what I am used to in many ways: the terrain is different (can someone say absolutely epic mountain ranges?), the food is different (mmm, BBQ!) and – perhaps the most impactful – the pace of life is different.
Instead of staying at a hotel and doing many of the traditional tourist activities, I split my time between two host families: one in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro and one in a factory town in the state of Minas Gerais. In Rio, the major activity was going to Copacabana Beach for New Year’s Eve… and it rained all night. It was still the world’s most amazing party though!
But other than that, my time in this foreign and beautiful country was spent with regular people doing regular things: going to the center of town to get clothes repaired, paying bills, fixing the property, cleaning and doing laundry, and visiting family.
It would sound cliche to say the pace of life there is slower than it is here, but what I will say is that people seem to be very focused on being present in their current activity and giving it their full attention – whether that is cooking, running errands, working, or enjoying time with friends and family. The result was that you didn’t start one activity until the first was fully completed or at a natural stopping point… there was no rush, there was do it well and then do the next thing.
This might be what people refer to about the pace of life being slower – the sensation of being 100% engaged in a task without running your thoughts ahead to the next hour or day or month or year had the unexpected effect of making things seem easier to prioritize, easier to address, and easier to comprehend.
When I found myself buckled into my seat heading home at the end of my trip, I couldn’t help but reflect on what a different mental space I was in from the start of my trip – how much more refreshed and invigorated I felt – and how I hoped I would be able to keep the focus, presence, and calm with me as I start my work for 2012.
Keeping It Up
As most extreme rut cures go, I have to say mine lasted a surprisingly long time. I found myself attacking my projects with a zest that I hadn’t felt for… well, too long. I was on fire again, reclaiming all the passion for my work that had moved me to do it in the first place. I felt the perfect blend of confidence, motivation, and urgency. There was something in the water down there… Brazil was obviously some magical motivational cure.
It wasn’t until well into March that I felt the old signs of routine and rut creep into my conscious mind. By then, it was back to business as usual – all the lessons I had learned (or thought I learned) while away about being present in the current moment or task were all out the window as marketing deadlines loomed for my book. I found myself yearning for Brazil in an almost obsessive way… could I sneak back down for a week? How much would it cost (in ticket expenses and business lost) to relocate there for a month? Two months?
Thankfully, the answer was too much, otherwise I would have been on the next plane out. But that need to escape back to a rut-less existence pervaded. I had to find some way to shake the rut and maintain the verve, without going 7,000 miles to do it.
I spent weeks talking to kindred spirits, folks from my Life Uncommon network, business gurus, and psychologists trying to find another option.
You’ll be happy to know the answer wasn’t Brazil. Actually, Brazil had very little to do with the effect I experienced (great people and great food aside). The answer – given by the majority I spoke with – is building newness into your routine.
I know it sounds like ironic advice – adding newness predictably into your routine. But the truth is the most successful – and longest lasting entrepreneurs – are those that seek out new stimuli on a regular basis. They understand that creativity, motivation, passion, and all those emotions that keep us pushing forward and innovating stem not from our inherent entrepreneurial genius (though a touch of that doesn’t hurt), but instead from conscious and regular introduction to new concepts, people, images… basically anything.
Entrepreneurship is a creative process – it is the ability to bring something into being that never existed quite that way before and develop it in ways not quite done before. That ability is born not from exposing ourselves continually to a narrow view of the world, but from exposing ourselves to disparate views – problems to be solved, threads to be connected.
I encourage you to look at your work and your routine and ask yourself where you are getting your predictable newness? Maybe you make a habit of reading a major newspaper regularly, maybe you go to the movies once a week, maybe you sit in coffee shops and talk to random people who come in. Whatever you do, nurture it and commit to it.
If you don’t currently get a lot of new stimuli in your routine, get out there and add it in – order some foreign films from your DVD service. Read a magazine you don’t usually read. Take a walk in a different park. Attend a seminar at your local college once a month. There is no wrong way to get your newness – be creative.
The only caution I would share is not to make new stimuli too great a portion of your routine. You will need thinking time to let what you read, see, or do gel and sink into your subconscious. And you will also need to get your work done!
The moral of the story for me has been twofold: never underestimate the power of a rut to reduce your productivity; and never underestimate the power of newness (especially exotic vacations) to get you back on track.
Here’s to your Entrepreneur’s Journey,