Like many thoughts that whiz through my head, I didn't have specific language for the phenomenon. A quote that incited Kate's most recent post, "Care not to rustout?", though, gives voice to a very real threat to those consciously (and unconsciously) trying to make a difference in the world.
"There is a Silent Killer in America – “Rustout”. Burnout can wear down your body, but rustout can wipe out your soul & spirit. Rustout is the slow death that follows when we stop making the choices that keep life alive. Rustout means we are no longer growing, but at best, simply maintaining. Rustout is the opposite of burnout. Burnout is overdoing. Rustout is underbeing.”
Underbeing. I don't want that. The thought of it makes my skin crawl. I know the feeling of being worn down, but to allow your soul and spirit to be completely wiped out... that is a lower level- a demeaning. It is there that one literally loses their meaning, be it by losing sight of what is most important in life or by allowing the driving force behind one's life, their passion, to deteriorate.
Burnout at least connotes a blaze of glory before leaving a shell of being behind; rustout, on the other hand, wears away one's being slowly, almost unknowingly, until a hollowed shell coasts along without real purpose or drive. Honestly, I wouldn't want either to occur to me (who would?) but there is something deeply troubling about rustout in the way that it silently stalks its victims.
It could happen to any of us if we let it. But that's just it: you have to let it.
We all know people who have let it happen to them. They are the people who have that space in their eyes where a glimmer used to be. The people who had their dream crushed at some point and never regained their footing or allowed themselves to dream again. They are the people who weigh heavily on those around them, who have an air to them you can't quite pin down.
Worst of all, somehow it is contagious. Rust spreads. It corrodes the spirit and wounds the soul. And even if a spot of it is scrubbed away, it still leaves behind tarnish, if not a hole. Changing the space, altering the being, and compromising the integrity of what/who it clings to.
The risk is there and so is the challenge. The challenge to remain conscious of what you are doing- not to slide into the comfort of mediocrity or routine- to live intentionally. The people I admire most in this life are those who are able, in the midst of everything, to continue to live with such intention. They are the people who dare to have passion. The people who radiate life. They are the people who share joy, hope, and peace without even knowing it, who have an unmistakable air to them that you can't quite pin down but want to bask in, if just for a little while.
We each have the ability to be those type of people. It means never losing your sense of wonder and remaining dedicated to what is really important. To make sure that the rust isn't able to creep in we need to, as Kate so aptly says, "pray, be of service, be generous, [and] seek peace and justice, in small ways and in large ones."
No single person can keep the world perfectly preserved. Perhaps though, if we each seek to become those who inspire, those who live intentionally and passionately, we may be able to counteract such underbeing. Not by being extraordinary, but by simply striving to be the greatest version of ourselves we can. That's not easy (and it may seem extraordinary at times), but I believe we can handle it. Constantly shining beyond the rust by refusing to forget who I am meant to be and being willing enough to become who I am.