How to Get Out of a Rut in the Second Half of Life
We may not often speak of it, but many of us wrestle with how to get out of a rut — particularly at midlife or later in our journey.
As people move through the life journey, they can easily get into certain unyielding patterns in their lives. This can especially occur from the stage of midlife on, although many people feel a sense of stuckness at earlier points, too.
There are certain types of pattern or habit that we adopt that make life easier, and that enable us to cope with the demands of life better. However, we can also find ourselves bound into habitual patterns of response in life that seem flat, joyless and counter-productive. Many individuals end up feeling that their life unfolds like clockwork, but is lacking in any sense of vitality or meaning.
Stuck in the Comfort Zone
We can easily find ourselves stuck, because we don’t want to move out of our particular individual comfort zone. It might seem like “being in your comfort zone” might be a very good thing, but that all depends. We can become very “comfortable” with situations in our lives that really don’t offer us very much. For instance, it can happen that our anxiety hems us in, and keeps us in patterns of behaviour or thought that don’t really offer much meaning or satisfaction, while also making it extremely difficult to try or even to consider more life-giving options.
Anxiety is not the only feeling that can keep us locked in a very flavourless “comfort zone”: the same thing may come about as the result of depression, or guilt or shame — or from feeling powerless to bring about any change, or any different state of affairs. This latter sense of powerlessness may be strongly connected with a sense that change would involve too much risk.
Example. “Tom” has worked in the same white collar, middle management job for 25 years. He doesn’t find it challenging, but the routines of the job are very familiar. It requires relatively little effort for him to go into work and do what he’s always done. He fantasizes about starting a business related to his interest in gardens and home renovation. Yet, whenever he thinks of it, he remembers his father suffering a mental breakdown, which led to unemployment and nearly losing the family home — a time of immense anxiety. “I just feel like, how can I take the risk, when I can just keep on doing what I’m doing?”
Facing Being Stuck…
One of the hardest things about being stuck in a rut can be facing the fact that we are, and that it is keeping us from exploring and opening up new opportunities. It can be uncomfortable to face the fact that “I’m stuck”, and sometimes it’s just easier not look at it.
As we’ve seen, a number of factors may keep us stuck in our habitual patterns. Another powerful thing that may keep us from even acknowledging that we’re stuck can be the investment we’ve made in the status quo. In the past, we may have labored hard to get to this very point in life — that we now so much need to get away from. The time, the money, the giving of our hopes and dreams over to the very thing we’re now stuck in, can be very hard to admit. Yet staying fixated on what we’ve invested in may keep us from acknowledging what we want and need in our lives at this time.
To get past being stuck in a rut may require us to get past our denial about what we need in our lives. It may require us to get to the place of acknowledging our deepest yearnings — the things that we most want in our lives. These can be so deep within us that we don’t even really acknowledge them consciously. They may emerge most powerfully in a person’s fantasies or in their dreams. This is part of the reason that Jungians attend to dreams when they are available: they reveal deep unconscious aspects of the authentic person.
Going on My Journey
How to get out of a rut? A big part of the answer lies in getting in touch with our real identity and what we really want — then finding meaningful and creative ways to live those things out. The journey to wholeness has a great deal to do with acknowledging the devalued or denied parts of ourselves. It is ignoring those parts of ourselves, very often, that leads to getting stuck in ruts that often have nothing to do with who we really are.
A truly supportive relationship with a /a-midlife-transition can provide a very important and healing container in which to explore the hidden or undiscovered aspects of who we are. It can be a very valuable and meaningful part of the answer to the question of how to get out of a rut.