A person sitting on the stairs.

5 Things Stagnant People Learn Too Late In Life

Life is a journey. Get moving.

Stagnant is not the ideal adjective. No one likes a stagnant economy. A stagnant pond emits an unpleasant smell. And the hot stagnant air of a subway car hits like an unwanted pit stain. Stagnation does not sit at the top of people’s list of desired attributes. And yet stagnation, whether you want to admit it or not, befalls many.

The problem with stagnation is it encourages more stagnation. Unless you right the ship of inactivity, you will be in the same spot three, five, ten years from now. Still stuck in the malaise of your position in life. Because this state discourages action, change is all the harder to bring about. However, it is possible to do. Here are five things stagnant people learn too late in life. Take advantage of them today.


Put me in, coach

Anna has been recovering for months. Her body still isn’t back to its normal self. And she’s losing her mind over it. At a meeting with her employer, Leviathan, she laments about how she misses her work. She makes her plea: Let me clock back in. With some hesitation, Leviathan allows it. Anna is thrilled.

In Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots, the world is filled with superheroes and supervillains. While they fight the big battles, they rely on hired help to manage logistics. Things like data entry, IT support, research and development, and getting around (a la a chauffeur). Anna is a freelance hench, hired for her skills with the spreadsheet. She works for the supervillain, Leviathan, and loves it. She loves every minute of it. And when she’s out healing an injury, she can’t wait to get back in the mix.

The lesson: If you don’t like your job, you don’t have to keep doing it. If you hate what you do, go do something else. Don’t stay where you are because everyone else has accepted mediocrity. Find someone that has risen above. Use them as a reminder that it is possible to enjoy your work.


It’s a date

In Anything You Want by Derek Sivers, Sivers explains how there’s always more than one way to do something. In his case, he mentions, “I’m taking an entrepreneurship class now. I’ve never studied business before. We analyzed a business plan for a mail-order pantyhose company. Like all business plans, it proposed only one idea. After reading the whole thing, I felt like saying things my old voice teacher would have said:

  • ‘OK, make a plan that requires only $1,000. Go!’
  • ‘Now make a plan for ten times as many customers. Go!’
  • ‘Now do it without a website. Go!’
  • ‘Now make all your initial assumptions wrong, and have it work anyway. Go!’
  • ‘Now show how you would franchise it. Go!’

You can’t pretend there’s only one way to do it. Your first idea is just one of many options. No business goes as planned, so make ten radically different plans. Same thing with your current path in life.”

The lesson: If you don’t change what you’re doing, nothing will change. If you’ve used the same strategy for ten years and haven’t made any progress, choose a new strategy. There’s rarely only one way to do something. For example, with dating, if you’ve relied on the matchmaking efforts of your friends forever to no avail, do something different. Give apps a try, hire an actual matchmaker, ask people who have recently found someone what they did. Do something different.


Poor you, poor me

In The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, the author explains how people steal energy from one another. They do this through Control Dramas. Control dramas are the dramas we stage so as to take control of a situation and thus steal someone’s energy. We steal their energy so that we feel better. This leaves the other person depleted. They respond with their own Control Drama in order to get energy back. The result is an eventual deterioration of the relationship. The back and forth power grab is unsustainable.

Imagine this scenario, “[You] have a friend, loved one, partner or co-worker who starts complaining about how life has dealt them some pretty rotten hands. They go on and on. They’re inconsolable. [You] may care and want to help them, but [you] may find [yourself] needing space from their constant pessimism and complaining, which drags [your] energy down, down, down…” Eventually, you stop spending time with that person. But until that happens, you succumb to it.

Often that means agreeing to things you don’t want to do but feel guilted into doing.

The lesson: You can say no if you don’t want to do something. Make decisions on what you want, not on what someone is guilting you into. When you let others force you into mediocrity, your life will feel bland. When you choose what you do, the sun starts shining and life becomes wonderful once more. Don’t believe it’s possible? Last year I told my family which holiday traditions I would no longer participate in. I realized I did them because I felt guilted into them, not because I actually wanted to do them. So I opted out. It was a hard conversation, but I’m happier for it.


A man’s world

Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China in an era dominated by men. She was chosen in her youth to be a royal concubine to the emperor. She was forbidden to weigh in on political matters. But she was smart. And she saw a grand future for China. So she waited for her moment. And when it came (it came a few times, actually), she took action. She didn’t let her gender or society’s rules dictate how to live her life.

In Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang, Cixi faced down opposition again and again. She organized a coup that put her in power while preventing bloodshed. She tore down barriers that kept women in the home. Further, she opened China’s door to trade after years of isolation. In short, she didn’t let someone else’s expectations force her into a life she didn’t want.

The lesson: You don’t have to follow societal expectations. If you enjoy living with other people, don’t let others tell you that you’re too old to have a roommate, especially when having one will make you all the happier. Ignore what you should do and do what you want to do.


Parks and forced recreation

In Parks and Recreation, Ann Perkins tended to lose herself in relationships. If her boyfriend was into hiking, suddenly she’d be into hiking. If he was into cooking, she’d be into cooking. She didn’t know who she was or what she wanted. Eventually, she realized this and decided that until she knew herself better she would pause her dating life.

The lesson: You don’t need to sacrifice who you are for the happiness of others. When you choose the route of sacrifice, you at best become resentful of the other person. And at worst you lose yourself entirely. If your job keeps grabbing for more and more of your time, question if that’s what you want. If you’re like Anna from Hench, it might just be. But if it means you stop exercising, seeing friends, relaxing – assuming those things are important to you – giving in to it will only keep you stuck where you are.


Moving forward with progress

Stagnation causes more stagnation. Because of its idling effect, you learn to overcome it far later in life than is beneficial. However, you don’t have to wait for the indifference to subside in order to make a change today. Apply the five things from this article and start making progress in your life. For your reference once more, the five things are:

  1. If you don’t like your job, you don’t have to keep doing it.
  2. If you don’t change what you’re doing, nothing will change.
  3. You can say no if you don’t want to do something.
  4. You don’t have to follow societal expectations.
  5. You don’t need to sacrifice who you are for the happiness of others.

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