WORDS chapter 5 doors WTCC

What is the Velvet Rut?

If you have never heard this expression before, I’m sure you are not alone. I hadn’t until one of my clients coined the phrase, several years ago.

Maybe, like you, I was intrigued and sought a definition. So, let’s now look at the fascinating conundrum of the ‘Velvet Rut‘. My client used the ‘Velvet Rut’ as a wonderful metaphor to exemplify how they were feeling in relation to their highly paid job, career and general lifestyle.

The ‘Velvet Rut’ is where you find yourself trapped in an unfulfilling job in which you are not learning anything new, not using the full extent of your skills and are just bored stiff. You probably disconnected several months ago and are now just going through the motions. The work is no longer stretching. You can do most of it with your eyes closed so you are unlikely to get fired for poor performance. Your level of competence and familiarity with the job means that, while it is not exciting, it isn’t scary either. You are pretty much marking time. Guaranteed, your values are also out of sync with your job, career and the organisation. Therefore, you are not being true to yourself either!

What is the difference between the ‘Velvet Rut’ and any other career rut?

The significant difference is, like my client, if you are commanding a top salary/reward package (she was a London City Trader), you can get stuck in this awful metaphorical tug of war. On one hand, you have a high salary and fantastic bonuses but on the other, you may absolutely loathe what you do. You couldn’t get the same amount of money for such an easy life anywhere else. Essentially, the trappings and the lifestyle are what keep you there. It becomes a hard wrench to leave them behind, especially if you like to ‘keep up with the Jones’ or even get one up on them. Maybe this is what is driving you?

You are being pulled towards the tempting thought of a career change. Wouldn’t it be great doing fulfilling work, to release yourself from your mind-numbing misery? But you are also being pulled away from jumping ship and leaving all your material trappings behind. Heaven forbid, you might even have to take a pay cut! This all seems a bridge too far. But where will it all end?

The longer you stay, the more comfortable the environment becomes because you know the organisation inside out and can therefore work the system. You thus minimise the risk of anything unexpected happening or of being faced with difficult situations.

Seniority and good relationships leave you well placed politically, so the pay rises and good bonuses keep coming. In theory you are also too expensive to make redundant because of your long service, although this would be a welcome blessing. You might feel as if your brain is shrinking and sometimes want to scream at the tedium and banality of it all but, in the final analysis, they are paying you way too much for you to pack it in and do something else. You are living a life of ultimate compromise.

In the private sector and commercial world, Investment banks, large Financial, Technology and Consulting organisations often have lots of people stuck in the ‘Velvet Rut’. They pay people large amounts of money but many stay because they have effectively priced themselves out of the market. The reality is they will be doing exactly the ‘same old’ stuff next year and the year after. Likewise, the public sector is also rife with people who are paid way over the odds for what they do, who are ‘treading water’.

If you get really bored, you can compensate for the lack of stimulation at work by finding it in in your spare time. It is no coincidence that many people who are stuck it the ‘Velvet Rut’ are also the community activists, charity organisers, residents’ association committee members and hobby-club newsletter writers that the rest of us rely upon so much. Even the ‘Velvet Rut’, it seems, has some social benefits. However, this certainly isn’t always the case, as many people in the ‘Velvet Rut‘ lose interest in life outside of work too, becoming lethargic and generally apathetic.

Are you in the ‘Velvet Rut‘ and how do you get out of one?

The ‘Velvet Rut’ is extremely difficult to get out of, which is exactly why it has been named this! It will either take something dramatic to suddenly awaken your senses or it can be a from a gradual drip feed, over time, eventually becoming totally unbearable. Therefore, it could be months or even years, before you finally realise there is more to life than money and this isn’t the way you want to live your life. If you’re lucky, you could be affected by redundancy and benefit from a big pay-off. Unfortunately, more often than not, it is health problems, that is the wake-up call. Whatever the reason, if it makes you sit up, take stock and take positive action, then this is a big step forward.

The best way to break out of your ‘Velvet Rut’ is to invest in a Career Coach. They will help you bring about a new self-awareness of what you really want in your career and life and why, especially your career and life values. Only then can you channel your energy into finding a fulfilling job or career that you really want!

If this blog resonates with you, like the image at the top of the page, which door will you open? Will you continue with ‘same old’ and ‘compromise’ or will it be ‘new choices‘ and breaking out to ‘unlock your true potential’?

If you now recognise yourself as stuck in the ‘Velvet Rut’, then take my simple Career Health Check, as the start point to taking positive action. Working together we can then beat the trappings to transform your career and life!

Steve Preston is a leading Career Coach to executives and professionals, MD of specialist Consultancy SMP Solutions (Career & People development) Ltd, motivational speaker and Internationally acclaimed author Author of Career and Personal Development books and products, including Portfolio Careers – How to Work for Passion, Pleasure & Profit! and Winning through Career Change.