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Breaking the Rust: 7 Tips to Move Forward When You Feel Stuck

Rusty Chain

“Change is inevitable. Growth is intentional.” ~Glenda Cloud

The squeak emanating from my office chair had finally become unbearable. Like a slow drip of acid on the surface of my psyche, it had finally burned its way into my head.

I stopped working on the article I was writing and strode into the garage to retrieve my toolbox. Time to replace that rusted out wheel with the shiny new one that I’d bought months ago.

I leapt into action purposefully. Today, things would change.

Three of the four bolts holding the wheel in place were out when things ground to a halt, as the last bolt was stuck.

How many times do you find yourself embarking on a path of change when you are stopped dead in your tracks? You find something has rusted over time and does not want to move.

You try various methods to loosen that one bolt—you curse it, try several different types of pliers, stop multiple times to make sure you’re actually turning the bolt the correct way. (God forbid you’re tightening it!) Why is this one bolt frustrating your attempts at transformation?

So what happens?

You put the bolts back in, liberally apply some WD-40 to the wheel to make the offending sound go away for now, and go on with your life, even though you know the irritation will be back soon enough.

This scenario surfaces time and time again in my personal life.

I am a person who does not like conflict and usually tries to find the smoothest path out of drama; I have been called a peacemaker.

I toiled for years in several jobs that did not allow me to chase my own dreams. I kept my dreams buried under layers of personal rust. On the outside I appeared to be the dutiful husband, father, and employee while on the inside I was languishing. 

I would decide it’s time to fix my issues only to be turned back by some preconceived notion that had frozen me into an uncomfortable position.

My first marriage fell apart, a casualty to my own emotional stagnation. My wife pointed it out several times but I refused to change. I was stuck on a path I never wanted to be on. I was unfulfilled and it showed to those closest to me.

My daughters grew up from infants to beautiful young ladies, yet I still didn’t follow my own path. I listened to the accumulated voices in my head telling me to follow the rules, don’t rock the boat. 

The ultimate irony was that while I was stuck, I was telling my daughters to follow their dreams. At nights I would lay awake dreaming about the path I had abandoned but was too afraid to follow.

I met a fascinating woman who challenged all of my ideas of what a partner could be. She dared me, pushed me, loved me, and encouraged me to listen to my heart.

My first wife loved me, but unfortunately my frustrations—my rust—had helped drive her away. I vowed not repeat my earlier mistakes and slowly learned to trust my heart. In time, I found myself starting to loosen the stuck bolts holding my own squeaky wheel in place.

How many times in life have you allowed the rust to accumulate around your happiness without realizing it?

You approach the issue with resolve, vowing that this time you will make that change you’ve been thinking about (finding a new job, moving into a new department, going back to school, chasing a dream you thought was impossible).

Yet you allow yourself to be turned back due to something that you perceive as being out of our control. You quietly shake your fist at the sky and curse the gods.

How do you break the rust? How do you move forward in your development and inner peace?

1. Figure out what the rust is composed of.

The rust is inside you; you created it, and it’s inside your own head. Figure out what the issues are that allow you not to make this change you so desperately want to make.

Retreat to a place where you can relax and search your soul. Define your goals, dreams, and aspirations, and realistically list all of the pros and cons for each.

2. Conquer the “everybody’s.”

In the book Finding Your Own North Star, author Martha Beck talks about the forces that limit us and hold us back. She refers to these forces as the “everybody’s”—as in “everybody says that is a bad idea,” “everybody tells me to stay in my current job,” “everybody says I am lucky to be doing what I am doing.”

The question you have to ask yourself is: Who are these people? Are they real or a figment of your imagination? Often, they are the accumulated detritus of messages that have touched upon your psyche over the years.

Write out your goals, things that make you happy, things you deserve in a fulfilled life, and then create two columns underneath each item. In the left column write down who would want you to achieve your ideals and in the right column, the people who would not want you to succeed in them.

Hopefully there are no names on the left hand side, but if there are you have some serious soul searching to do. Who are the people restraining you? Do they really not want you to be fulfilled? Do they like seeing you unhappy or are they more encouraging than you give them credit for?

Talk to them and find out what they really feel. I bet you will soon be able to move their name to the right hand side of your ledger of contentment. If you still have a few names on the left, ask yourself if you should let them direct your life choices. Who would you rather listen to, the large roster of supporters on the right or the few on the left?

When you find yourself looking at your list you’ll soon realize who is holding you back—it’s you.

3. Become a positive feedback junkie.

Remove yourself from negative influences and surround yourself with people and situations that keep you focused on your ultimate goal. Become your own cheerleading squad. I kept a notebook where I recorded my inner thoughts—lists of what made me happy, daily victories, and the eventual objective.

4. Build up your professional network.

There are numerous individuals and organizations looking for forward-focused people. Linked In is a powerful tool in today’s business world. Dive into it.

5. Ask for help.

Many have changed their lives and are happy to help you. You will be surprised by how many people will step up. It’s human nature to want to help others.

6. Realize it’s going to be hard, damn hard.

Only you can change your path. Work on it after work, on weekend, before bed, anywhere you have free time. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones. Remember the age-old question: How do you eat an elephant? The answer: one bite at a time.

7. Imagine the end result, focus on the good, not the bad, and keep going.

As Winston Churchill said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

Recently I decided to leave a job I had been out for eight years. I enjoyed my coworkers but found myself uninspired and stagnant. My career had stalled.

I did not come to this decision easily. It took months and months of soul searching to realize it was time to break the rust and move in a different direction. I gave notice and have not looked back since.

I am in control of my destiny. My network is pointing out leads for me, inspiring me and advising me.

What I have found is that people I meet are happy for me and ask how they can help. I’m excited about following the new path in front of me even if a little nervous about the potential to take a wrong turn.

I am feeling more complete than ever before in my life, but I have to continually watch for fresh rust amassing.

What a great feeling it is when you’re able to sit back into that favorite chair of yours and know once and for all that you have fixed the annoying squeak that was not allowing you to enjoy it anymore. Imagine a life and career where you are happy. It can happen. Just break that rust.

Photo by Calsidyrose

About Hudson Lindenberger

Hudson Lindenberger is a free lance writer living in Boulder, CO. As a father of two teenage daughters he tries to fill each day with humor and happiness. His passions are the outdoors, exploring new places and living life to the fullest. Follow him at http://hudsonlindenberger.com.

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  • Marianne

    Great post! It’s especially timely for me – I’m currently on a career path that has absolutely no room for my creativity and desire to help people. I’ve let the rust build up at this job for over 2 years and I think I am getting closer to following my gut and getting out of there. I’ve been fighting the doubts in my head more and more each day and am hopeful I will be able to find work that makes me fulfilled and happy. Thanks for the extra motivation!

  • What an awesome post. I love the depth and new ideas, and the way it was written. Thank you!

  • curt3785

    These words come at a synchronistic time for me. Much needed, thank you!

  • Angela McCumber-Wachter

    Just what I needed! Ill be reading the book and keeping my journal with me!

  • Talya Price

    I think conquering the “everybody’s” is a difficult thing to do but not impossible.

  • ReBecca Poulsen

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I decided 5 months ago that I needed to find a different job. Things at the one I’m at is just not working out anymore. I’ve been on numerous interviews but still no job. I was close to resigning myself to just continuing to work at the current job and quit looking, but this article reminds me that I need to keep working on that rusty bolt and get it broken free so I can replace it with a better one. Thanks!

  • Senada

    Hello Hudson – I liked your article, thanks! I think though, that there is a little error with the column sides (point 2): one is supposed to write the “supporters” in the left column…but later you refer to this column as the one of the “not-supporters” (…not, that it is *that important, but ja…,).. Senada

  • Deb65

    Brought a tear to my eye….I am in a transition period myself. Due to various reasons, I have been unable to go back to my ‘career’ and am looking in a new direction. Lots of beliefs and ‘everybodys’ keep rearing their head….and some guilt that goes with going against the ‘norm’.

  • melloland

    Great article, after 15 years working and 13 years owner of my own business. I still could not find the happiness I long for. About a year ago I decided to sell my business and began the journey of finding myself. What I’ve discovered is even though I was very talented in my trade and ran a successful business. My real talent was my ability to connect, relate and care on personal level with co workers, employees bosses etc. Thats what was the driving force that kept me going for all those years not the actual job itself my ability to connect on an emotional level having real conversations. So now i’m pursuing a job where compassion and empathy are requirements. Find what it is that you have always been told your good at. Something that has always come natural to you and make it your career.

  • Hyo

    The hardest part is believing in yourself and the world to open up as you do…but it never fails to do. It just gets so easy when the natural stumbles on our path arise to point to them as reasons why not to be vulnerable and continue on our path. For me, that is the hardest step.

  • Arthur Kendall

    Nice analogy, Hudson! I have always worked for myself, unable to follow the crowd, feeling different (which can be uncomfortable at times, but not as uncomfortable as not being yourself). But I still find rust building up and it’s an ongoing process of conscious awareness (if that’s not tortology!) – constantly checking you are being your authentic self, “following your bliss” as Joseph Campbell said, and challenging yourself to grow, dream and achieve those dreams!

    I am currently doing some “de-rusting” which is why this article caught my attention. Having started a new project, I soon reached a certain level which felt comfortable. Fortunately, this in itself felt instinctively “uncomfortable” as it can easily lead to stagnation. So I needed to go back to my bigger vision and try to figure out how this current project can lead me on to achieve that vision.

    What I have found interesting – and challenging – is that the harder we try and loosen that stuck bolt, the less progress we make and the more frustrated we become, whereas if we just let ourselves trust in life, the answers will come to us. Following our hearts, learning to trust our instincts leads to natural breakthroughs in clarity and purpose which causes our minds – including the 90-95% we don’t actually use (consciously) – to work on creating the life we want.

    Thanks for sharing your story and good luck on your journey!

  • Kathy www.yinyangmother.com

    Enjoyed this Hudson. Loved the rust analogy – it’s not like things are broken, we just need to give them attention, move in new directions etc. Sometimes when we feel it we are stuck we think it is permanent, when really it is just rust that we can loosen and move forward from.

  • carlos

    Sad how history repeats its self…i have been lookin to change for years, but failed at every attempt. I became discouraged at life its self. My wife could not put up with the negative person i became, she left me. So from here on out im going to make sure that thus part of me no longer interupts my life.

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Thanks Marianne,

    I understand the rust you must break it took me years to finally shatter mine. Remember life is short you deserve to be happy at home and work. Experts estimate you spend 1/3 of your life at work make it matter!
    Good Luck

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Thanks Esther!

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Hi Angela,

    Hopefully the book helped you, another book I love is http://www.fourhourworkweek.com. Tim’s blog and book are truly inspiring.

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Hi Talya,
    I won’t lie they were the hardest thing for me to overcome, I still battle them to this day. It seems in our culture we beat ourselves up if we decide to step out of line. Every great invention was conceived by someone who questioned the status quo.

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Hi Rebecca,

    Don’t give up keep at it! You know why the view from the mountain top is beautiful? Because it was hard climbing to the top. Hopefully this article will inspire you.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/successful-people-who-failed-at-first-2014-3

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Thanks Senada,

    Nice catch!

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Thanks Arthur,

    Oh so true and good luck on your journey also.

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Hi Kathy,

    It’s amazing sometimes what a little momentum can accomplish Barbara Baron states is as thus “Don’t wait for your feelings to change to take the action. Take the action and your feelings will change.”

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Carlos,

    So sad to hear about your break up but I am a firm believer in always looking for the positive. I am sure you will look back on this trying time for the positive path you embarked upon. I like this quote “Always concentrate on how far you’ve come, rather than how far you have left to go.”

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Hi Deb,

    You should follow Tim Ferriss he is a bit unconventional but his message is fantastic.

    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    I agree keeping momentum can be one of the hardest things you will ever do.

    “One never stops climbing, Julie, unless he wants to stop and vegetate. There’s always something just ahead.”
    ― Irene Hunt, Up a Road Slowly

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Thanks Curt

  • Hudson Lindenberger

    Beautiful advice melloland Thanks!

  • Amber C

    Thank you so much for this beautiful advice. I’m going through a period of trying to decide if I want to move or not to another state. Most days I wake up and I’m miserable of being in the same place and I’m ready to leave, but I’m just concerned I’ll feel stuck somewhere else. However I feel like if I go I have nothing to lose, it will be a fresh start and perhaps I’ll be more motivated. I know I’m what’s holding me back, hopefully soon I can get over the rust that’s accumulated. Keep on writing! xoxo