Have you ever started your car, put it in neutral and then waited for it to go somewhere? If you keep one foot on the brake you can accelerate all you want but you still won’t move. When you take your foot off the brake you begin rolling in the direction of the steepest grade, either forwards or backwards. Or you might just sit still because you’re on a flat spot. You can accelerate all you want but it doesn’t help get you moving. You’ve got all this power and potential for movement, but if you’re stuck in neutral you just sit there burning up your fuel.
Life can be like this. You want to go somewhere but you don’t know where. And if you’re not in gear, and don’t have a grip on the steering wheel, who knows where it will go. And just like my car example, you can put your life in neutral, accelerate all you want, but if it’s sitting on flat ground it doesn’t move, you go nowhere. Sticking with the car analogy, even when you do put your car (or life) in gear and begin moving it helps to have a destination and a route in mind. Once you do get moving you have to watch for obstacles, other vehicles and obey traffic laws.
Moving out of neutral and getting onto gear is just a part of the journey. If you plan on going somewhere that a lot of other people want to go you’ll encounter congestion. Just like driving somewhere, you may have to take an alternate route or there may be detours.
Were you ever at a point in life when you wanted to do something or accomplish something but you just couldn’t move? It’s like having your car in neutral. That can be frustrating. I’ve been in that spot more than once. And even with all my lists and goals I still find myself in that flat spot now and then. Instead of just sitting there in neutral, I get into gear and go somewhere. It may just be a joy ride for a while until I see something interesting. But sitting in neutral, burning fuel is a waste of energy and resources. Sometimes it’s better to turn the car off, make a plan of where to go, devise your route, then start the car, put it in gear and get rolling.
Lists help keep me busy and get me out of neutral. I know that I must do something mildly productive every day, or at least tend to the things I’m responsible for. My lists aren’t always all that exciting. My list may be: do laundry, clean the house, do yard work, go grocery shopping, work out. But my lists keep me from being stuck in neutral. However, just having a list written out doesn’t do me much good if I just stand there staring at it with my thumb in my ass. I have to expel some energy and perform tasks on my list regardless of how boring they may seem.
Getting out of neutral isn’t just about major changes and movements in life. While sitting in neutral, small, daily responsibilities are missed or put off. And I have found that by getting the small stuff out of the way I have a better vision and path towards the big things. Every day isn’t monumental, but every day still needs to be productive. Without some basic productivity going on, being stuck in neutral (or drunk), starts to feel normal.
Often, work performed looks fruitless or worse yet, it looks counterproductive or that you made a mistake. I’ll grant you that it’s not easy to muster up energy and enthusiasm while in the depths of adversity. It’s not fun to keep trying to achieve something only to keep getting kicked in the teeth. But from my own experiences in life (as well as if you were to reflect on many of your own experiences), that if I do nothing, I am guaranteed of nothing good ever happening. Doing nothing can sound tempting, especially when it seems as if nothing is going your way, but shit can rapidly get out of control. Just like smelly laundry, if you do nothing, problems and responsibilities begin piling up.
I’ve found that the hardest part of life is being able to clearly asses why something didn’t work out. That’s because every bit of information isn’t always available or apparent and so many factors are completely out of our control. But I do know that sitting in neutral doesn’t propel you ahead and coasting in neutral can only work for so long.
Even though I just said that you’ve got to do something, doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing. There’s the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Fuck that! Sometimes you are better off putting the car (or your life), in park and turning it off. But don’t just sit there during these times. Think about the problem, think about what outcome you want and then what needs to be done. Think about alternatives to what you might consider to be obvious answers—and then write all this down while you think. I’m very serious about writing things down. Thoughts and ideas just held within your mind get lost or forgotten.
I might talk a problem out with a friend, but I’m better off sending emails. I write my friends detailed emails, expressing the problem and presenting my answers and alternatives to the problem. My friends know that I’m not necessarily seeking their advice, but that this is my process of working out a problem. Sometimes they see holes in my line of thinking, sometimes they have ideas and alternatives I hadn’t thought of. And sometimes they just reply with, “You are a dark miserable fucker aren’t you? Pull yourself together. Get yourself in gear and do something about it. I’ve seen you get through worse.” I’m fortunate to have some close friends who I can share my problems and dark thoughts with. If you don’t have a close friend or confidant that you can share your thoughts with, then type out an email and send it to yourself. Detailing your thoughts and reading your own words has a way of illuminating things.
Things don’t always work out for the best. But by being in gear, having a planned route and having alternatives in mind, you can make the best out of how things work out. It’s happened to me numerous times. The alternative wasn’t always better and the end result isn’t always grand. But it’s usually better than nothing. And very often (yes, very often), when implementing an alternative plan things do work out better than anticipated or it leads to different or more interesting alternatives.
I wish I could guarantee that every effort you make will bear fruit. I don’t know if it will and I’d be lying and insulting you if I said it would. I know that we’ve all had struggles in life. But I can assure you that you can’t drink or junk your way out of a problem. Continuing on a destructive path or going back to a destructive path won’t fix anything.
Some effort must be expended. Get the most out of your energy expended. Please don’t burn up your precious fuel running in neutral. Put yourself in gear and begin moving towards your destination along your planned route. You may not feel like it, but it’s time to get out of neutral and get into gear.
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