Kyle Schmidt Software Craftsman


Rut (noun):

  1. A long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
  1. A habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unpreductive but is hard to change.

Have you ever had that (seemingly temporary) feeling that you were in a rut? Well, what if I told you that the rut you’re feeling isn’t as temporary as it seems? What if I told you that ruts are there all along and that ruts are our monotonous habits that we only feel after they have finally settled in and made themselves comfortable? A few months ago I felt like I was in a rut and I wish to explain to you how I dug myself out and continue to work on my habits so that the rut doesn’t reappear.

When a rut encroaches, you really feel it. You feel lethargic, work becomes that much harder, and you start to feel sorry for yourself. When I feel a rut come on, I reach for comfort which for me are self-help books. This time, I came across a great book that I recommend for anyone needing inspiration and a career wake-up call: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Throughout the book, Gilbert emphasizes the fact that we are all creative people despite how uncreative we feel during our deepest ruts or how small we feel in the scheme of our wildest dreams. Through it all, we must remember the joy that creativity brings. It is a magical moment where, for intermittent periods of time, we are able to live outside of ourselves, to be bigger than who we currently are. Gilbert wants us and is begging us to never forget those moments of creativity and eudaimonia which we should use to fuel our passion and right the ship to align with our dreams.

But I argue that this is not enough. Our past habits are clearly not working and if we want to get out of our rut (definition 2) then we must adhere to rut (definition 1). This is what I have found to be more profound than looking internally (at our current habits) for answers.

What do I mean by rut (definition 1)? When facing a rut, I now look to my heroes, the giants in my field who I aspire to become. I study their art, their work ethic, and their philosophies. These are the men and women who have paved the path to success and by following your heroes, you too can achieve greatness. In order to dig yourself out of your rut (definition 2), you are going to have to become aware of and adhere to the ruts (definition 1) created by your heroes and their disciplined habits.

A well-known example of someone who looked to his heroes for inspiration was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin wished to improve his writing for his books, notes, and legislation while also widening his vocabulary. In order to do so, Franklin used The Spectator, a popular newspaper at the time and one he recognized for its impeccable writing style, as a tool he could use to emulate and elevate his writing skills. Franklin would:

  1. Read the essay in the paper.
  2. Make notes for each sentence he had read and set it aside.
  3. Look at the notes and try to replicate the essay in his own words (he would sometime jumble his notes to make this exercise more difficult).
  4. Compare his version of the essay to the original.
  5. Revise and improve his version.

If you adhere to your heroes’ ruts (definition 1) then you can dig yourself out of your slump and recover to a greater place than you were before. Coincidentally, this technique also happens to be one that Anders Ericsson heavily advises in his new book Peak, his study of the best athletes, musicians, and USA Memory Champions of the world and their practicing habits. This is a topic for another time but I will briefly say that by studying your heroes and giants you will also gain perfect mental representations or mental models of the skill you are trying to achieve which you can use as a guide for emulation.

Read Big Magic, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I believe you will as well but recognize that you will only get so far following Gilbert’s advice. If one wishes to break their habits then I advise them to look to their heroes and study them. Study their approach to their art and study their art itself. This should not only reinspire you but will provide a template or mental model that you can use to emulate, compare, and attempt to exceed.

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