I recently encountered the term “rust-out”, which, I was told, is…

I recently encountered the term “rust-out”, which, I was told, is the opposite of burnout.

It happens when we stop challenging ourselves and opt for the path of least resistance. We simply exist, without reflecting on how we can grow. A feeling of numbness, an almost comfortable boredom, sets in as we expose ourselves daily to the same things, places, and people. Also known as our ‘comfort zone’, it feels like the perfect place to be in but eventually takes its toll. It prevents us from growing and experiencing life in its entirety.

In my opinion, Rust-out is worse than burnout as it shrinks our brain and prevents us from experiencing life fully. While burnout is a result of doing too much of the same thing, rust-out occurs when we don’t do enough and stagnation sets in. While burnout erodes our energy, rust-out wears away our will and spirit.

When we feel discomfort, we often brush it aside; we bandage the issue instead of getting to the root of the matter. We prolong bad situations because we don’t want to change directions. We feel comfortable being in the same box, even if we know it’s harmful in the long run. We prefer to stay in the safe space instead of challenging ourselves. Growth happens when we push ourselves outside our comfort zone. It feels disconcerting but that’s what is needed to prevent rust-out.

A few days ago, I found myself slipping into my rather cosy comfort zone, where I was content and happy. So, when a friend approached me to help him anchor a music concert, I thought about how much it was outside my comfort zone. I could not be bothered. It was way too much work. On further thought, I realized it was exactly what I needed. I had to stretch myself and do things outside my safe box. I had to stretch to grow.

I regularly conduct workshops on mindfulness, happiness, work-life balance, self-motivation and self-acceptance. I am comfortable talking about my subject, despite the butterflies every time I face audiences. Anchoring a music show was alien territory, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to challenge myself.

As the event drew nearer, the butterflies in my stomach multiplied and anxiety took over. Witnessing 40 musicians and vocalists practice their art to perfection made me feel very inadequate. I panicked about not being able to do justice to the performers. However, I pulled myself together, put in some rigorous practice hours and finally started feeling comfortable. We did a dress rehearsal and it all seemed to tick along very nicely.

Finally, D- day arrived and I was all primed and pumped up to wow the audience.

I walked out on to stage, greeted the audience and started off with a grand flourish and then …. I blanked out, forgot my lines and fumbled.

Somehow, I managed to get through the first set of introductions, but then, I refused to go on stage, opting instead to make announcements from backstage. It took me a while to regain my composure, but eventually I felt better.

It was my turn to go onstage and face the audience once again. This time, I decided to be myself. I accepted and owned up to my nervousness, even inviting the audience to help me. They were a wonderful and supportive audience, and eventually we became comfortable with each other and the evening progressed well.

In my mind however, the evening played out as a disaster. I kept focusing on the ‘ two bad bricks’ (Ajahn Brahm’s story). I failed to see the 998 good bricks and my whole attention returned to where I had stumbled. Many people came out and congratulated me on a job well done, but my mind refused to accept the congratulations as all I could see was the faux pas I had made.

It was a test of practicing what I preach; I advise people on how to face their fears and insecurities and move forward. When I stumbled in front of 600 people, every cell in my body was crying in

shame and fear. I wanted the earth to open and swallow me. I had 1,200 eyes staring at me, and I was blank. The odds against me seemed insurmountable. I had to muster up all the courage at my disposal to face the audience and allow my ego to take a thrashing. I had made an utter fool of myself, but I decided to go out and face my fear. It was not easy, but it was the right thing to do and it worked.

I survived, and now when I look back, I think it was a wonderful lesson in self-acceptance and forgiveness. We are often harder on ourselves than others. We focus more on our shortcomings and less on our strengths; more on our failures and less on our successes. We fear being judged by others, so we become our own worst judges. We indulge in self-flagellation hoping to purge ourselves of our shortcomings. Belittling oneself and hiding in fear and shame brings more pain than gain.

I may have become the laughing stock of some in the audience, but what matters more is how I felt about myself. I did feel awful but I recovered from the shock and embarrassment and continued with my part. I forgave myself and accepted my shortcomings.

A few days later I actually felt better for having pushed my self created boundaries. In the past I would have surely said no to something like this for fear of being judged, but in order to move and prevent rust out I had to stretch my brain and me.

We all dream lofty dreams. We want to change the world for the better. We want to leave our mark. We want to make a difference, but are afraid to go outside our comfort zone, we allow fear, lethargy and stagnation to get the better of us. Big lofty goals can be scary but taking small steps is easy. Doing something different that stretches us just a wee bit everyday makes a big difference.

Although I was afraid, uncomfortable and nervous I continued to stand and did not let fear get the better of me.

Key takeaways from this experience for me:

  • Even when one is fully prepared, things can go wrong. The key is to bounce back.

Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself. We are human, and humans make mistakes.

Most of our fears arise from self limiting beliefs and lack of self acceptance.

Anxiety is the enemy of confidence and there is a fine line between the two.

It’s natural to feel uncomfortable when you step outside your comfort zone, but every time you do so, it gets easier. Practice stepping out more often.

Accept the love and affection that comes your way, focus your attention on the people who love you and support you instead of on those who mock you and bring you down.

Narrow in on what went right and not on what went wrong.

Keep stretching, keep growing. Keep failing, keep falling, but never stop growing.

Cheers ..


Shveitta Sethi Sharma
Chief Happiness Officer
School of Happiness

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