by Jeff Miller

ruts-in-sand2I’ve come to recognize and acknowledge my artistic side, a part of me not nurtured while growing up. Had music lessons or art classes been an option for me, as opposed to only sports, these gifts might have been more fulfilled and maybe even led me down a different life path. However, today I’m working to (re)discover that creative aspect of myself. I’m nurturing that side of me which remained dormant for so long. It has always been close to the surface, but just unable to fully emerge and blossom.

The artist in me vicariously lived shadowing declared artists. In my twenties, I spent a lot of time hanging out at art museums and art galleries. Then to further nourish my creative longings, in my thirties I began collecting art, hanging out with artists and working at a gallery. I’ve also befriended many of those very gifted artists. I love hanging out with them, dialoguing about life, spiritual perspective, and the dimensions of their work. They add a depth and balance to my life that the academic, sport or business side of me could not even begin to touch. Quite frankly, it’s a big undeveloped part of me. Partly due to choosing a path others and the culture around me led me to and partly getting stuck in a rut of performing around others expectations.

I’ve begun tying creativity into my vocational career. The creative process of collaborating with designers, writers and photographers in developing marketing communications and campaigns has added a wonderful dimension to my corporate work life. I enjoy writing and editing, but rarely dedicated time to it in my personal life. Writing for work has been more of a “ghost” writer assignment, helping to express the voice of the executives and company I work for. This blog has now been an initial step in setting the artist in me free. It provides an outlet to express and share me… my thoughts, hopes and dreams.

It is easy to passively live life and go in a direction that seems to be the right way without regularly assessing your direction or if you are off your intended course. In his book The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, Peter Greer shared a story about an experience with ruts.

“we decided it was probably overdue for our family to escape together for a few days … dear friends let us stay at their home in Outer Banks, NC … they had cautioned us we needed four wheel drive to make the last nine miles to their home … In the sand, multiple ruts formed by other vehicles went before us. Some led farther down the beach, some led to other homes, but we needed the one that led to our final destination. Without giving it much thought, I simply chose a rut and began driving. My thinking was that if it started to send me the wrong way, I could simply redirect, switch to different pair of tire tracks. However, it wasn’t long before I learned something: You go where the rut leads you. Changing course seemed impossible. Bouncing along the sand, I realized this is exactly what I had done in my relationship with my family and with God. I had not chosen my path carefully and was furiously driving in a rut of service, but moving away from a life grounded in grace… I would not be able to escape the rut I followed for years in a week–I had to do some significant backtracking to discover where I had gotten onto the wrong path. The backtracking went past specific behaviors that needed to change and led me to the place where lasting change begins: my heart and my foundation for service.”

It doesn’t take much to get into a life rut. Although simplifying and having routines are good, it is also important to be aware if they lead to a rut of comfort. Even though your goal may still within your sights, your current trajectory may ultimately not lead to your desired destination. You may need to make a course correction. And the longer you wait, the more radical of a course change may be needed. And like Peter discovered, it be may not be easy to shift tracks, you may end up needing to backtrack and it will take time to unravel the implications and impact of what you have or have not done.

wind-driftWhen I was in flight school, our navigation abilities were often tested. Although one degree in course deviation may not seem like much at first, with time and distance it becomes large. For every mile flown, a single degree off course leads to being off target by 92 feet… being about one mile off for every sixty miles flown (in ~12 minutes flying at 300 miles per hour)… being 500 miles off if flying around the earth at the equator. So even being a tad off trajectory adds up and can lead to being far away from your intended target.

What are some ruts which cause us to get off course? Things that can ultimately prevent us from arriving at a desired destination as we engage in endeavors we are passionate about or are just plain healthy? Here are a few I will tee up to stimulate thought and discussion. They are categorized by the various aspects that holistically make up who you and I are. I will admit that this has been a reality check for me and uncovered some action areas.

  • physical… our diet, what and how much we eat or drink; exercise; sleep; our appearance and hygiene (may be little but do I keep my clothes clean and shoes shined)
  • emotional and relational… our interrelation with others, regardless of whether we are introverted or extroverted; our ability and willingness to be open, real and authentic with others (can we press in or do we tend to shut down and check out or respond Pollyannaish, as if nothing happened)
  • spiritual… our vertical connection with God and how that impacts and influences our horizontal relationship with others (what we do to nurture that relationship through reading, quiet time or meditation and what you do with and for others)
  • time and finances… often heard it said a good indicator of what is important to us is our calendar and check book (where we choose to invest our time, talent and treasure)

Failures in our lives, relationships or work don’t happen overnight. Catastrophic failures generally are not the result of just one massive event but a series of small, correctable missteps that add up over time.

Here are a few thoughts on things we can do to help keep on course and overcome crosswinds or turbulence we may encounter along our journey:

  1. Flight plan. Without a family or personal mission statement, it is hard to know what the final destination or desired end result is. It is a helpful “map” to aid in screening decisions regarding what overall affect what you do (or don’t do) will have on remaining on course.
  2. Wingmen. Having a support team around you is key to help us see blind spots (to check our six in aviator lingo). These wing men and women are incredibly beneficial in maintaining momentum and perspective, especially if I may have gotten in a rut or slightly off course.
  3. Elevate and slow down. It is easy to get heads down and caught in the day to day details of life, to get going so fast in the “weeds” that we lose track of where we are and how it fits in the big picture. Sometimes we need to take a break and do something different. To slow down and step back to enable us to (re)gain perspective. When flying, it was exhilarating and a rush to fly low and fast (like 50-100 feet at 450 miles per hour). However, it was not sustainable for a long period of time. Sometimes it was fun to elevate and slow down so you could take a look around, to enjoy the scenery and what is around you rather than just solely focusing on getting to your destination.

What have you found helpful to aid in identifying if you are off course and how to get back on track?
What kind of ruts do you find yourself getting into?

6 thoughts on “On course or stuck in a rut?

  1. Jeff,
    Very well written by my friend. I love the aviation analogies. This is a true life course that many can use and assist them in redirecting their lives.

  2. The rut and 1 degree work together. Getting back on track is always easier said then done. Life can happen at such a frenetic pace at times you do not even realize if you are off course or not. It takes courage to enter that evaluation period and I appreciate your comments and courage of wanting to align your activities to purpose.

    1. You’re right Scott, ruts and one degrees do work together… although small and subtle at first, they do quickly add up and can become catastrophic.
      Believe it’s a key reason for living an integrated and holistic life (as opposed to compartmentalized or siloed).
      Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Jeff,
    I’ll be your wingman anytime and not just a quote from Top Gun (where you had a cameo appearance). Thanks for many reminders to keep the brain whole and not one sided. Keep up the Great work and keep the faith brother!

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