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Why Are You Stuck in the Rat Race?

3/20/2020 Anant Goel

May I ask: “What’s your definition of the Rat Race?”

There is no such thing as “The Rat Race”. Because, Rat Race means different thing to each one of us based on our personal circumstances. It is, therefore, important to put our Rat Race in perspective.

There are two possible definitions and I’ll try to address each one of them.

Rat Race One

“It is a way of life where people are caught-up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth or power─ an exhausting and usually competitive routine.”

In this context, the desire to acquire wealth and power, when pursued passionately but not desperately, is a good thing. When you pursue something passionately─ not desperately in a fierce competitive struggle or exhausting routine─ you will accomplish your goal because, sooner than later, the Universe will conspire to make it happen for you. Accomplishing your goal is then fun and satisfying… certainly not a Rat Race struggle.

However, if you are in a desperately fierce competitive struggle for wealth or power or to keep up with the Jones or try to sustain a life style far beyond your means… then you are in the Rat Race and are stuck with.

Rat Race Two

“A term used to describe a frustrating and hard-to-break financial lifestyle.”

It is a lifestyle that is lived by countless people, oblivious to the very nature of it, to a degree that even when called upon, vehemently denies it.

This type of Rat Race involves subjecting one's self to a time-consuming job, saddling one's self with heavy mortgages/rents, bills, children, and liabilities, forcing the individual to continue busting his or her 
ass at that same job. Folks running this Rat Race believe that getting more money will solve financial distress. But those who subject themselves most voluntarily to this race, just spend more and more, digging themselves the same hole. "I'm not interested in money", they will say. If they aren't, then why are they thanklessly toiling their lives away and constantly bitching about their financial scarcity?

This type of Rat Race involves a combination of self-induced fear of poorness, a lack of choice, horrible spending habits, doing the same thing over and over, or the inability to adapt to the new changes in the work force taking place during the time this definition emerged.

If you are in a desperately fierce competitive struggle for wealth to keep up with the Jones or try to sustain a life style far beyond you means… then it is the Rat Race you got caught-in and are stuck with.

When Did You Enter the Rat Race?

It's difficult to pin down the moment you joined the rat race. It just sort of...happened.

When you were in college, you probably split the rent for your crappy apartment with roommates, you didn't have a fancy car, and you sustained yourself on ramen noodles. Whatever money you had left bought you some beer or a dinner out with friends. Yet, most people look back on those days fondly.

Then you entered the workforce and started making real money. Suddenly, you needed a nice car to drive and a big house to demonstrate your newfound success. But these things you accumulated didn't do anything to improve your quality of life. In fact, the more money you made the more stuff you needed. When you get a promotion, you still can't get ahead because your burn rate keeps pace with what you make.

The problem with the Rat Race is that there's no finish line. There's nobody waiting at the end to give you a medal and dump a cooler of Gatorade over your head. The wheel just keeps spinning. And the longer you're caught in this cycle of consumption, the more natural it becomes. You forget that it wasn't always like that.

Get off the Wheel

The first step toward escaping the Rat Race is being able to see the rat race. When you're just trying to keep up, it's easy to saddle yourself with a hefty mortgage and an expensive car payment and then convince yourself that's what will make you happy, but it's important to realize that your stressors are entirely self-inflicted.

The good news is that you got yourself onto the wheel, which means you can get yourself off of it.

1) Manage Yourself: Take full responsibility of yourself and pro-actively organize and live your life. No one else can do it for you. 

2) Manage Your Life Goals and Career: Work is just one aspect of life. There are other crucial areas which need attention in order to lead a fulfilled life: social (family, friends, recognition), health (sports, relaxation, diet, well-being and fitness), and spiritual (fulfillment, religion, love, philosophy).

3) Reassess Your Life Goals: Ask yourself what's really important for you, what you would like to achieve, what you are really good at, what your values are, and what you want to look back on at the end of your life? This allows you to anchor your personal life vision in your ongoing schedule. At the same time it will add meaningful content to your life. 

4) Establish Daily and Weekly Priorities: There always will be external tasks and deadlines which you will need to comply with. It's a fact of life. Still, in order to master your life, you will also need to set your own priorities in order to concentrate on your important professional and personal goals. You need to control your day in order to control your life.

5) Conduct Life Quality Checks: Make sure you spend a few minutes daily to review whether your daily activities and your weekly schedule are consistently aligned with your overall goals. If not, change your agenda to reflect back to what you really want to achieve in life. 

6) Learn to Manage Stress, Complexity and Demands of life? Only you can do it.

7) Only Buy Things that add to Your Quality of Life: Our culture of consumption is what pulls us into the Rat Race in the first place. At some point, the stuff you own starts to own you. Whatever you spend your money on, make sure it adds to your quality of life.

Once you escape the Rat Race, you'll be able to move freely and appreciate the world around you without getting dizzy.

Remember: Life is a journey, not the destination, and you don't want to spend that journey on a treadmill going nowhere.

[Curated content based on excerpts from posts, blogs, media articles, and sponsored research]  

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