Stuck by Squidward Tentacles
What’s it mean to be “stuck in a rut?” For most of us, it’s got everything to do with losing interest in our daily routines — we go to work at a job we’re only halfway interested in, come back home to a life we’re bored of, contemplate how to spend our next few hours of free time, and then get ready for bed. And the next day? It’s rinse and repeat. We do it all over again. And what do you know? Soon six months, one year, two years, five years pass like this. We’re still doing the same thing, and we’re running out of time to do anything else.
If you’re stuck in a rut right now, you’re in luck: today, I’ve got a client we’re going to help who’s in this exact same position. His name is Squidward Tentacles, and he’s in a larger rut than anyone I’ve ever met before. Everything he does — from getting up in the morning, to playing music, to working his job — seems to annoy him. It’s gotten to the point where he’s actually feeding off of the negative energy of some of his neighbors, whom he welcomes into his life just for a distraction.
But Squidward doesn’t want to be this way. So, he wrote to us at The Journal That Talks Back to see if we could help him out of the corner he’s in. I think it’s definitely possible. And I think that if you’re in a rut right now and need a little guidance on how to get out of it, you’re going to want to follow along too — some of these tips might just apply to you!
Alright. Let’s read Squidward’s journal entry to us, and then we’ll dive in with some coaching help.
Squidward’s first journal entry
“I’m stuck in the same old boring routine as always. Get up, get ready for my minimum-wage job, go to work, come back home. Even the things that used to excite me, like playing clarinet, painting, riding my bike… they all feel pointless. I’m in a rut. It’s even gotten to the point that I’m starting to welcome the annoyances in my life. My neighbor/coworker is unbelievably loud and obnoxious, but I even find myself looking forward to seeing his stupid face just to get some novelty in my life. I don’t know how it got to this point. I was going to be something incredible, someone who took risks and made something of myself. Now I feel like a cold, dead fish…belly-up in the water while I slowly wait for a bigger fish to come and eat me.” — This post was journaled by Squidward T.
First impressions: let’s understand Squidward’s real goals and relationships
First of all: big mood, Squidward. I mean, we’ve all been here, right? Getting disenchanted with life and wanting to make it more fun, interesting and novel is sort of a universal truth. It’s a weird sensation, where you feel stuck, left behind and not sure how to get back onboard. So how do we get back onboard during these moments?
I’ve got some ideas. Here's how our instruction manual for helping Squidward might start: as coaches, first we need to ask the right questions to better understand what he’s really trying to get out of life. We might start by asking, “What was that incredible thing that you were going to be before life got the best of you?” We know that Squidward was interested in biking, clarinet and several other hobbies, but we don’t have a great picture of what his true passions are just yet. Knowing that will help.
It'd also help to learn more about Squidward’s relationship with this neighbor that he has a seemingly love-hate relationship with. Is his neighbor experiencing their relationship in the same way? And what separates these two from having a shared experience if they both live and work in the same place? Why is Squidward in a rut, while his coworker doesn’t seem to be? I think we should pose some of these questions to Squidward to see if we can get a clearer picture of how to help him out.
(In a saucy Frenchman’s voice): Two weeks later
Okay. It’s been two weeks since we posed those preliminary questions to Squidward. Here’s his reply to us:
“Where do you work, how long, and why do you feel like you’re still there?”
“I work at this local burger restaurant, not a chain, just a place where I thought I could get an easy job as a cashier while I pay the bills and spend my free time creatively expressing myself. That’s me in a nutshell, though: always waiting and taking the easy route and never taking chances. I feel like interesting things happen to people around me all the time, and I’m in the same place, with the same mouth-breathing customers, asking myself… ‘Squidward, why is this happening to you?’”
Alright. Now we’ve got a better picture of what Squidward’s pining after. And if we can go out on a limb and say it, I think we can pretty safely assume that Squidward is starting to see everything in his life in shades of melancholic black and white. Right now, it seems like everything’s bad, no matter what it is — even his customers annoy him, and we know that not every customer is trying to ruin Squidward’s day.
So, what we’re learning is that Squidward doesn’t have a strong foundation of joy to build on at the moment. That means what we’re dealing with might be a matter of perspective, instead of a matter of great big life changes that need to be made. In a sense, helping Squidward might be more about taking on little challenges that change his relationship with his values, rather than telling him to go out and seize the world.
So, what we might ask Squidward in a situation like this is: “Can you challenge yourself to do one small thing every day that’s a little out of your comfort zone? Something a bit hard, new or different?” Asking Squidward these questions might help him gain clarity about whether or not his stuck-in-a-rut feeling is really tied to the life he leads, or if it’s more a matter of perspective.
The check-in: appreciating the foundation while chasing the larger goal
Okay. It’s been three months (cue our sassy time-describing Frenchman again) since Squidward’s first journal. We’re checking in with him after posing our questions to him, and here’s what he wrote back to us.
“You know, I have a house, a job, people who seem to care about me… maybe I don’t always take time out to appreciate those things. You told me to pick one challenging thing every day and it’s been… kind of nice. I felt challenged to keep painting and even completed an impressionist piece of myself yesterday. Taking life by the gills like that wasn’t something I would have seen myself doing a few months ago.”
What a response! It feels like Squidward’s broken away a little bit from the monotony of his life, which is a great first step toward getting out of that rut. What’s important to note here, though, is that we didn’t simply encourage Squidward to be more creative each day, or to play clarinet more often, or any other ‘motivational’ style lessons where we’re pushing him in places he doesn’t want to go. And the reason that’s important is because if Squidward had tried to simply ‘do more’ and failed, he’d come back to his baseline, which is that monotonous dissatisfaction with the world.
In short, Squidward wouldn’t have a different perspective to fall back on. That’s why we specifically worked with him to change his mindset, instead of simply changing his behaviors. And that’s the power of coaching! We’re able to intuitively target the underlying factors in peoples’ lives that leave them wanting for more, instead of giving surface-level advice that anyone could find out of a self-help book.
So, it looks like Squidward’s doing much better than he was before. That’s awesome to hear. Admittedly, things won’t always be easy, but now Squidward can at least appreciate the things in his life that he already has which give him stability while allowing him to chase larger dreams.
We’ll call that a win.
Curious about how to get coaching like this? Check out The Journal That Talks Back if you want to know how a coaching relationship might look with YOU (yes, normally we coach real people) in the driver’s seat. Or, hit up other episodes from our new Character Coaching podcast to listen to how we’ve helped other infamous figures — from Dwight Schrute to BoJack Horseman — gain clarity around their challenges.
Craving a super hero story? Check out that time we coached Robin...I mean Dick Grayson!