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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