Today’s post is about the rat race. I have heard it called “life’s financial trap” and I can understand how it can seem that way.
I remember one Monday morning going to my local train station and seeing all the people on the platform ready to board a train to go to work. It seemed like an endless cycle to me, as when one load of commuters got off the train, another load came to board on the train.
That got my mind ticking and I literally felt like “is this it?” Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life? A few days later, I saw the video below “Happiness by Steve Cutts” on LinkedIn about the rat race and it hit a chord with me.
The Rat Race Explained
The rat race starts sometime after you are done with college. You get your first job which pays decently enough to allow you to buy your college dreams. For some, the first dream would have been to get a 72-inch plasma TV or a 152-inch one, if you are a big dreamer.
So you buy your TV. Next dream on the list might be a car. So you get yourself a functional car as you wait to buy the car of your dreams.
At work, you grind harder; get a promotion and a salary raise. This means that you can now afford to move to a slightly more expensive and fancier house, so you do.
On and on it goes, having a dream, working hard, fulfilling the dream then moving on to the next big dream.
Wikipedia defines the rat race as, “an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit.” It is usually comprised of a lot of competitiveness and comparison.
The competition to get ahead of others at the workplace or in business is usually endless. When you get to defeat your peers and get out of the cubicle, your peers change. You and your new peers (Who own offices like you now do) all strive to get the corner office. You win again and get the corner office.
The stakes are then raised, and you look at the floor above you. This competition goes on all the way to the top floor where the board sits.
This journey of competition with no particular end in sight is the rat race.
Steve and Angela
To help us get some perspective, I’d like you to meet Steve and Angela.
Steve and Angela were in the same class in college. Both of them loved playing around with numbers ever since they were kids, so it came as no surprise when they found themselves in the same business class.
College was a mixture of hard partying during the weekends and a couple all-nighters when the school work piled up. Neither of them worked particularly hard in class, but they kept up with their school work and managed to get decent grades.
A couple of evenings a month, Angela, Steve and some of their other friends would meet up and play scrabble while having heated political discussions. These nights were tremendously enjoyed by each of them and were usually the highlight of their months.
Fast forward, they graduate college, get decent jobs and with without realizing it, slowly creep into the rat race.
Of course, as most college friends do, they promised to always keep in touch with each other, which they did by having monthly scrabble games. For a while, they would meet up at least once a month, play a few games and share fond memories of their college days.
But after a few months, Chris stopped coming because his girlfriend got pregnant. Due to the coming baby, Chris had to work overtime to make more money in order to cater for the expected increased expenditure.
Children aren’t cheap!
Also, Julie got promoted and had to move to another city.
Soon after, Steve got a girlfriend, and after a year dating, he proposed to his girlfriend and got married. At work, he put in quite a bit of consistent effort which resulted in a promotion.
Steven used to own an old beaten up Toyota corolla, and Since he couldn’t drive around in a beaten-up second-hand car with the new “Department Head” title at work, he got a new car and sold the old one. His wife got pregnant and they had to move to a bigger house in preparation for the little one.
The monthly scrabble game was long forgotten, as he was now playing in the game of life. He got a mortgage, he got a second car, he set up college fund for the kids, and he kept telling himself he needed to start investing in stocks.
Every year expenses magically gets higher, Steven kept saying and complaining, and so he had to work even harder at work to make more money.
On the other hand, Angela never got around to settling down. For her, getting ahead in her career was everything.
When she got out of college, she realized how much time she had wasted doing what she considered trivial things. Therefore, she planned her days to the minute, ensuring that she made the most out of each day.
Advancing in her career wasn’t that hard for Angela, actually it came relatively easy to her, due to the amount of self-discipline she had instilled in herself. So up the ladder, she moved, beating department heads for the managerial job, then other managers for the managing director position, and soon she moved to a different company for a higher-paying job.
Let it not be said that she did not have friends: she did, and she appreciated their company, but she did not spend much time with them. It was, therefore, hard for her to sustain any other relationships away from work.
Twenty Years After College
Twenty years after college, Steve was sitting in his car, preparing to go into a meeting, when he felt all the weariness of the rat race crashing onto him. His marriage was on the rocks, considering how much time he spent at work. He loved his kids to bits, but never really spent time with them. He was advancing in his career, that’s for sure, and his investments were paying off.
Still, he wasn’t happy.
He had thought that by making a lot of money, driving a fancy car, and ensuring that his kids got the best in life would make him happy. Instead, he was tired: tired of trying to get ahead with no end in sight, tired of doing the same repetitive job over and over again.
He just wanted to be back in their small college room, getting wasted, playing scrabble and trashing Plato. In that car, at that moment, Steve called his scrabble squad and planned for a meet-up.
A good number promised to show up, including Julie, Angela, and Chris. Only Angela showed up.
That night, their discussion was the rat race; were they happy now that they had achieved almost everything they thought they would by the time they left college?
Could they see an end in sight?
Was it pointless?
Steve was frustrated; he felt that there was a better way to do this than to go through the monotony of their current life. Angela was mostly resigned; she didn’t know a different way of going about life that didn’t involve her power suits. The rat race fed her, clothed her, let her go on her rare and expensive vacations and ultimately, made her as happy as it could.
Getting out of Life’s Financial Trap
That night, when she got home, Angela decided that she would examine if there was a different way to do things.
Was there a point to advancing her career, day in day out? She had come to absolutely hate her job and its repetitive nature.
After reading a couple books and going through articles on some websites, she decided to see if she could improve the quality of her life by getting out of the rat race.
1. The Audit
First, she had to determine if she was in the rat race. There was no way she would get out of something she hadn’t identified to be part of. So she asked herself three fundamental questions:
- Is there an end in sight? Her advancement in her career was a continuous and life-long process.
- Was her career and life in general characterised by competition? Tremendously; it was the only way she could get ahead.
- Was it characterized by comparison? Not so much, but there was enough of it to be concerned.
The next step was for Angela was to determine whether there are alternatives she could use to make income.
The rat race provided her bread and butter, and by getting out of it, she needed to make income in another way. After brainstorming, she realised that apart from numbers, she had no other skills. The only thing she liked was occasionally drawing and painting, but that was it.
3. The Exploration of the Alternative
How do you make money by drawing and painting?
This is the question that Angela had to ask herself as she explored this interest. As a solution, she decided to extend her work hours at home. It does sound a little insane, working more while trying to get out of the rat race.
However, drawing and painting relaxed Angela. She felt good just doing something she was exploring, and not necessarily depending on to make her income. Therefore, even though she spent a ridiculously amount of time on her day job, she looked forward to winding down at the end of it.
At the same time, she explored the different ways she could turn this passion into an income-generator. Ultimately, by mixing her day up with an activity that wasn’t geared towards making money or getting ahead, Angela was slowly getting out of the rat race.
4. Needs versus Luxuries
In order to stop fully depending on her day job, Angela had to determine what she needed and drop luxuries she didn’t need.
Her vacations had to be of a reasonable cost, her clothes functional and she didn’t particularly need a chauffeur when she could drive. By cutting down on these luxuries and concentrating on her needs, her income need lowered, hence making it easy for her to ultimately leave her job.
Steve could not get out of the rat race: his fears of the loss of income, his competitive nature and his need to be like his peers worked against him. Maybe, he told himself, he would retire to a small fishing village on some coast and be happy once he was done with all this.
On the other hand, Angela bid her time, changing small aspects of her life and knowing that happiness is not a future goal: it is to be achieved now.
Fast forward, two years later. Angela leveraged her corporate contacts and started her own design studio, and school, which she runs and manages. She isn’t profitable quite yet, but in a few months, she’s projecting to become profitable. By that time, she will either have the choice to either run the business or hire someone else to run it for her.
Essentially Angela would have escaped the rat race and can finally start living life on her own terms.
A Final Thought
This is just a simple example of what a lot of people face in the world today.
Most people will unfortunately have to slave away most of their prime years working for a paycheck.
But you don’t necessarily have to follow this path.
It’s time you take your financial future into your own hands.
Thank you guys so much for reading!
Please share this post with a friend or two, and leave your thoughts below.
With that said, I will see you all in the next one.
Happiness is not a future goal: it is to be achieved now.