How to get yourself out of a rut

Getting yourself out of a rut is like playing a video game. The first few levels are easy, the next few levels get harder. So you’ve got to level up if you want to move onto the next level.

How to level up

Level 1 — Learn a new skill.

When I wanted to get myself out of customer service and into a digital career, I learnt all the basics on how to code. I went to the library, I searched up online. I filtered out the good information from the bad. I was soaking in so much knowledge.

Productivity-wise, it wasn’t too hard. I was 24 at the time, so I had the energy to study in the evenings. I would come home from my easy customer service job, and study 3 to 4 hours before I went to sleep. I did this for a few months, then I started building a portfolio.

At this stage, I was on level 1 of the game. Things were easy. My life was easy. I lived home with my parents. Ofcourse, at the time I didn’t think it was easy. But looking back, the only skill I needed was to pick up a book and learn about the basics of coding.

Level 2 — Put the skill into practice

I applied for a few different jobs with my portfolio. Eventually, I landed a role in a design studio, creating digital modules for clients.

Looking back, transitioning from customer service to a new career wasn’t too hard. It only took two months of job seeking. But now I realise that it was because I was applying for entry level jobs in the digital field.

I was still operating at level 2 of the game. The only tool I needed really was my portfolio.

Level 3 — Find out what you need to improve on

After 3 years working there, I wanted to move on. More specifically, I wanted to move up. Somewhere where I would get better pay. But I didn’t know how to. Nor did I trust myself to take that leap.

At this time, I started paying attention to the things that I was good at, and also noticed the areas where I consistently needed help with. For instance, my boss would tell me that I was really good at instructional design, breaking down complex learning into simple steps. But my design skills were not up to scratch.

To advance to level 4, I needed 2 skills. Specialised knowledge and confidence.

Level 4 — Learn again but be specific.

This is where I’m currently at. Level 4. I need to hone in on my skills. More specifically, I need to identify the skills I need improving on, and work on them to become more efficient at them.

However, the game just got harder. I’m no longer 24. I’m now 27. Yeah, it’s not so old. But I have a mortgage, I get tired really quickly, getting to work and back takes 2 hours a day. There’s absolutely no way I can study the same way I used to at 24.

That’s why at this stage, when you’re pretty burnt out and exhausting all your energy, the only way out is to educate yourself. Really identify those skills that you need to get right. Don’t spend unnecessary time working on skills that aren’t going to get you out of a rut.

For example, I mentioned how I need to improve my design skills. Now that’s too broad and there’s so much I would need to learn to become an expert. But due to years of experience, I know exactly what areas of design I need to study:

  • I need to understand which pairs of font look good together.
  • I need to understand how to use the grid system to lay out eye catching pages.

I’m not going to learn things like how to create beautiful, handwritten typography. Or how to draw. None of these skills will help me advance in my learning design career.

And I also need to learn the theories behind how adults learn. This isn’t design related, but it’s specialist knowledge that I need to learn to advance in my field.

So, levelling up becomes a continuous cycle of learning and improving. Start by putting your current skills to practise, so that you can identify what skills you lack. To move onto the next level, you have to keep filling up your inventory with more specialised skills.

If you want to finish the game and be at the very top, keep learning.

My sad freelance experience

Something happened recently that made me question my ability to write.

A few months ago, I got my dream freelance job writing content for a children’s educational app.

It was my first freelance job ever and I spent 10 hours a week holed up in my room perfecting my content. I had so much fun coming up with creative ways of teaching children about the Earth, the solar system, and the things they saw around them.

I was earning quite a lot on the side. I earnt more per hour on this job than any other job I had ever had. I thought I had finally transitioned into the world of freelance and that I could quit my full time job.

But I decided to wait just to be sure. I continued working 40 hours a week on my day job, and 10 hours a week on my freelance job. I would come home after 12 hours, then squeeze in an hour to write. I did this for about 4 months. Everything was going so well.

But that’s just the thing isn’t it? When everything goes well, something bad is bound to happen. That’s when things started to unravel.

I started coming home from work feeling extremely tired. I couldn’t think. All I wanted to do was lie down on the couch and sleep. But I forced myself to work on my freelance job. And that was my mistake.

Everybody always tells you to work hard. Work hard and you will reap the rewards. Work hard every hour that you have and don’t waste it by lying on the couch.

But that experience has taught me otherwise.

See, I was working hard. I had a schedule. I thought that if I managed my time well, if I stuck to my schedule, then that was all I needed to get the work done.

I was wrong.

My writing became less clear, and more muddled. I was writing, but I was writing pointless garbage. I was writing for the sake of filling up my quota for the day, so that I could hurry up and sleep.

I knew it at the time, but I just didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to give it all up. I wanted to continue. I wanted it so badly.

On one particular day, when my spirit was at its lowest and my nerves were at an all time high, I decided to ask the question that I had wanted to ask for so long.

I asked my client if I could extend my hours to 40 hours a week, meaning I wanted to quit my day job and take the leap into freelancing.

I hit send, then I held my breath and waited. And waited. The reply came soon enough.

It still hurts when I think about it. Part of me blames myself for not taking the time out to relax, for putting so much pressure on myself to do well.

My face is burning in shame when I write about this.

This was his reply:

“Thank you for getting back to me, but I’m not comfortable letting you work 40 hours a week at the hourly rate that I’m currently paying you. I suggest we cut it down to half and you continue working for me for 40 hours a week.”

Half.

It felt like a bomb had dropped into my gut. All of these months. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t do well. It was supposed to be something that I was good at. And I couldn’t even do it properly.

I replied back to him.

I told him that I needed time to think about it and that I would get back to him once I had an answer.
I was heartbroken. I had put all my eggs in this one basket. And I was left feeling afraid of my abilities, afraid that I wasn’t ever going to be good enough.

So I did reply. Eventually. It took me four days of going backwards and forwards to finally come up with an answer. I asked friends, I asked family, I even did a coin toss.

Against the unanimous opinions of my family, I said “yes”. Yes to the half slashed wage and yes to the 40 hours. Yes to the fear and yes to giving it a second chance.

I said yes to all those things because of a dream that woke me up in the middle of the night that compelled me to write back and say yes.

In that dream, I kept getting rejected by the man who broke my heart. I kept wanting him to say yes to me, but he kept saying no. I had this horrible feeling of being given up on, of bring the woman that nobody wanted to take a chance on.

And when I woke up, I decided to turn the tables. I no longer wanted to be the girl who said no to risks, but the woman who said yes to unknown chances.

That day I made my decision.

I still have to wait for a confirmation from my client. But I’m waiting, not with bated breath, but with a sense of confidence, that whatever the outcome, I chose to give myself a chance.

The book seller’s magic

The lady at the bookstore, I saw her today, wrapped in a heavy shawl outside the bus stop.

Her hair was pinned up with a little black clip, a dark statement against her wispy white hair.

Four words popped out as soon as I saw her. Straw-like, stuck out, and slightly unkempt, but she seemed to flow of a magic that only book seller’s have.

One day, I hope to be a part of that same magic too.

And though I wanted to speak to her, I felt mute underneath the vast night sky. Some small feeling inside of me was holding me back from the book seller’s magic.

In my bolder days, when I’d spoken to her, she told me that she lived far away from the bookstore. Her children thought it was silly of her to travel all the way to the city just to work there.

But people who aren’t part of the magic don’t know. When you find a place of belonging, you’d do anything to keep it alive.

And though I am scared, pretty much every day now, I know I’d rather be scared than to stop being a dreamer.

I can’t help but continue on this path. It’s the only one that seems to ring true, the sweetest melody that makes all else bitter.

Now I can see that whatever happens, I will strive for that magic that booksellers have.

The one who makes all the wrong decisions

Do you ever make decisions that are insane/ incomprehensible/ illogical, that nobody in their right mind would do?

I feel like that is me. Or, at least, I am on the verge of doing that. And I’m so torn between logic and insanity that I’d be willing to base my decision on a simple coin toss.

The thing is, I am always torn between these two opposing forces. On one hand, I think how awesome it would be if I took a leap of faith into the unknown, where there is no guarantee that things will ever work out. And then I snap back to reality, scaring myself with all the what ifs.

People seem to romanticise the idea of taking leaps of faith and letting whatever comes your way hit you.

I do too. And it scares me.

So why do I think like that when I’m not really that brave of a person? Who am I to think that I will be able to soldier on through whatever comes my way?

Because there is something that I am utterly afraid of. Something that happened to me when I was nineteen years old that has stayed with me and messed up my process of thinking.

I could be safe and comfortable going about my own day. But then I think back to my nineteen year old self and the way I didn’t act when I should’ve or could’ve. My life would’ve changed in that instant for the better if I acted on that whim.

But I didn’t. And that has stayed with me for years, crawling underneath the roots of all my decisions.

No regrets. No regrets. It’s why I push too hard even if things look bleak.

No regrets.

I would rather have tried too hard than not at all. Because then I would know. I hate having to rewind back in time to find a piece of knowledge that has slipped through the cracks because of an indecision. It’s tedious. That’s why there’s no such thing as time travel.

Regret has made this shy, wallflower of a girl need to try something different. Regret has hurt my mind, stretched it, and bent it in ways that I would have never imagined.

Regret has disrupted my safe thinking and conjured up wild and crazy alternatives, opening my mind up to endless possibilities.

Fearing regret has probably made me a little insane. It’s probably led me off track at times. But I hope it will eventually lead me back to the right decision.

I am an adventurer

I am an adventurer.

Not your typical skydiving, globe trotting, jet skiing adventurer, but a more solitary, peaceful kind.

You see, being adventurous means being brave and following your heart.

My adventure happens right here in my room, where I am writing stories, becoming the author that I want to be.

There are it’s challenges; distractions, heartbreaks, financial woes, and work that gets in the way. But an adventure wouldn’t be called an adventure if it was one smooth sailing ride to the finish.

One of my major challenges this week has been my freelance work. Due to distractions, loss of a close friendship/romantic interest and feeling down in the dumps for the past week (months), I’ve let the quality of my freelance work slip.

My client is not too happy about it, but he has given me another chance to fix it, which means less time spent working on my novel.

Luckily for me, this weekend is a long weekend so I can, if my mind permits, focus on getting things sorted.

I currently work 2 jobs, a 40 hour a week day job, and a ten hour a week freelance job. So I’m forgiving myself for being a bit stressed and making mistakes.

But it’s really got me thinking. I need to pull myself together and stay organised so that I can get the work done and still have enough time to write my novel.

I’ve only spent a few hours this week writing it, which is nothing compared to the time spent freelancing and working.

I’m thinking in a few more months, something needs to give. I’m waiting a bit longer to make a decision. Seeing how things turn out first.

Anyway, what challenges have you guys faced while reaching for your dreams?

Hope the stars can work in our favour for the rest of this year.

Writing under the shade of a tree

Right now I’m using my break to sit and write under the shade of this big tree. I only have 15 minutes to finish this post before I have to return back to work. So I’ve got to hurry.

Why am I writing under a tree?

Before my office moved to the other end of the street, I used to do my personal writing at the library, during lunch time. Now that I’ve moved further away from the library, I’ve been scrounging around for neat little places to sit down and write.

Sometimes it’s impossible to find the energy to write after work, so I try to write throughout the day, in bits of time between my working hours.

Finding the perfect space to write

Nothing can replace the feel of a nice, soft spot in the library, but if you have no choice but to sit outside and write, then find somewhere that’s partially private.

Writing delves into the subconscious, and if you’re one of those people who can’t think when people are staring at you, then a nice shaded area, dense with trees, is the perfect place to write.

I want to write more but I have to go back to work. I’ll be here again, making use of this private writing spot. I hope to spend more of this time working on my novel.

 

 

 

A letter to the universe

At some point in my life, I began collecting diaries. I believed that if I wrote down the things that I wanted to achieve, then I’d be putting my thoughts out to the universe and somehow they would come true. It was like writing a letter to the universe. That’s why I own 30 diaries and counting.

But when the universe was busy reading someone else’s letter, I grew complacent and made a few mistakes. It all began when I started daydreaming about becoming a writer. I’d spend evenings working on my writing skills and mornings working on work. I thought I had a good balance going, but then came the big complaint at work.

An email came through just as I was about to go home. A few words in and my heart sank. Disappointing, she had commented. For the next few days, everyone tried to find out how I had made those mistakes. Stupid, really, it was just a lack of common sense. But it had a domino effect. Every small mistake I made was now viewed as a big mistake. I didn’t even trust myself anymore.

That was when a friend invited me along to a science conference by Michio Kaku. I’d never heard of him before, but I thought I’d give it a go. I was glad to spend my thoughts away from my mistakes and enjoy being in the company of my good friend.

Michio Kaku looked like a Japanese Einstein. He had the iconic, shoulder-length white hair and he was no doubt, just as smart. He talked about all these big ideas: the universe, string theory, Elon Musk’s BFR and the future of mankind. A little stab of panic rose in my chest. Was everyone this smart?

When he opened the floor for questions, the intelligence in the room was overpowering. “What happens when muons bend and time slows down? What happens to the junk in space? Can we download our data into avatars, and what is a soul?” were just some of the big questions directed at the mighty scientist.

Somehow, someone in the audience struck up the courage to ask Dr. Kaku a ‘slightly unrelated science question’: “Dr. Kaku, how did you sustain your passion long enough to carve out a great career?”

This peaked my interest, because I thought it had some relevance to my life.

The mighty scientist seemed to love this question. He himself had asked it many times before, to the 300 scientists he’d interviewed on his radio station. He began by telling us about the ten year old story.

He said that all successful scientists began with the ten year old story. It was the age when they received their first telescope and saw the night sky for the first time. They remembered the feeling of joy at seeing something so vast right before their eyes. Remembering the joy, was what sustained their passion throughout their career.

At the end of the talk, my friend turned to me and said, “See, you don’t need to have common sense to be successful.”

I nodded. Three hundred scientists can back up his sentiments.

The thing is, I keep trying to be like someone else, but in the end I always fall back into myself. Like stars collapsing in the universe, that’s when we shine the brightest.