Without realizing it, our jobs are slowly taking over our lives.
Even though Cat’s in the Cradle, Harry Chapin’s only number-one song, was released in 1974 (and famously covered by Ugly Kid Joe in 1992), parents are still missing out on their kids’ lives because they’re so caught up in the 9 to 5 rat race.
Every now and then, something happens to remind us of this fact. Most recently, artificial intelligence (AI) development and the fear that automation will take over our jobs.
But many people aren’t worried about AI and potential job loss. That’s because they’ve already left the rat race – and you can join them.
What is the Rat Race?
An Americanism dating back to the late 1930s, the rat race is defined as “any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially in a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.” (Dictionary.com)
BusinessDictionary.com explains it’s “analogous to rats in a maze that compete against one another to be the first to get the cheese. The cheese is a measly reward, yet the rats continue to compete for this small prize. When one refers to the rat race, one envisions harried, unhappy people working long hours for little pay and little recognition. Yet they continue to participate in the rat race because their families depend on their earnings.”
Why Do We Get Stuck in the Rat Race?
There are 6 basic reasons why many people get stuck in the rat race for life. BusinessDictionary.com captures the essence of those reasons in its definition above, but none of the substance.
- Our schooling system is still based on the factory model of management, which trains us to be docile, productive employees to make someone else rich.
- After graduating from high school, we immediately put ourselves into a lot of useless debt by going to college, usually for no reason other than it’s expected of us.
- Despite all that time spent regurgitating facts without actually learning anything, we remain financially illiterate because – once again – we’ve been trained to conform so someone else can get rich off our labor.
- Once we leave college, most of us stop actively learning anything, contrary to what’s best for us.
- The average savings rate in America is a dismal 3% to 4% at best, which is a recipe for disaster.
- As a result of the above, plus aggressive advertising and a consumerist culture: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” Rather tellingly, the phrase is an adaptation of a 1928 column writer’s labeling of Americanism as “Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
How Do I Get Out of the Rat Race?
There are a few different recipes online for developing your own “map” to get out of the rat race maze. Some of them work very well, others not.
Most miss out on a crucial step or two. So to make things easier for you, we put together our own tried, tested, and trusted blueprint.
Step 1: Identify Your Personal Vision
Part of what differentiates those in the rat race and those who have escaped is the fact one group either hates what they do for a living or feel indifferent about it. There are always exceptions, of course, but they’re very rare.
The other group – those who escaped the rat race – are the ones that either enjoy what they do for a living or outright love it.
But that didn’t happen by picking a path at random. At some point, when they decided it was time for them to get out, they sat down to identify their own personal vision.
Not what someone else told them they need to do, but rather what it is they enjoy doing. What makes them feel fulfilled and pays the bills at the same time.
Sit down and decide what your personal definition of success looks like. Is it being able to travel the world? Work with children? Create something?
Your idea of success is your personal vision. Once you know what it looks like, you need to start acting in a way that lets everything you do bring you closer to achieving it in your every day work-life.
It’s going to be hard. And there are always going to be days where you get out of bed and wish you didn’t have to work. But once you’re out of the rat race, those days come a lot less frequently.
Step 2: Live Like You Don’t Know When Your Next Pay Check Will Come
This is harder than it sounds, because downscaling from a life of lavish consumerism is never easy. The creature comforts we’ve built up around ourselves have come to be our personal saviors, the things that numb the pain of being stuck in the rat race.
But you need to exorcise a lot of it before you even start making a move to leave the rat race.
Because if you don’t, your lifestyle is going to drag you down. And chances are, when that happens, you’ll turn tail and run straight back into the corporate maze.
So sit down and take a good, hard look at your life. Because you’re going to become a minimalist, or you might not be able to eat.
Here are a few places you can start:
- Shop around for better insurance policies;
- Consider refinancing your student loans;
- Cut the cable, but keep the internet – trust me, you’ll need it to make a living;
- Cancel all your subscriptions, especially to online streaming services – they’re just going to be a distraction as well as a money-drain;
- Look up some recipes online and start cooking for yourself – it’s much healthier and much cheaper than eating out;
- Do you really need the latest Mercedes-Benz, or just a functional car that isn’t astronomically expensive but gets you from A-Z just as well? Even better, do you actually need a car at all?
- Don’t be ashamed of moving back in with your folks while you get yourself up and running – do what you need to do to escape the rat race;
- Most importantly, make sure you have an emergency fund in place that can cover 6 months’ expenses if things go south while you’re starting out.
Step 3: Break the Rules That Will Not Serve You
Almost everything we do in life is directly or indirectly controlled by the way we want society to perceive us, based – at least subconsciously – on how society wants us to present ourselves.
Rushing out early in the morning to work 40- to 45-hour weeks in a cubicle is the only way of life most people know.
They mistake the fact that, because it seems to be the norm, it must be the rule too. So we do it day in and day out for a measly paycheck.
Break the rules by understanding this is not a lifestyle with your best interests at heart. It’s absolutely possible to make the same amount of money – if not more – outside of the rat race, without leaving a trail of broken relationships in your wake.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American household has an annual income of $61,372. That comes down to about $5,114/month, $1,278.50/week, or $255.70/day.
That doesn’t seem as unattainable, right? And because you’ve downscaled, you won’t even need to earn as much.
Start out by trying to earn just $300 over the weekend. It’s not as hard as you might think – but it’s also a lot harder if you don’t do it the right way.
Step 4: Work Harder and Smarter
In the rat race, we’re told to work smart, not hard, if we want to get ahead in life.
Truth is, you need to work harder and smarter. It takes time to build success for yourself, especially if you want it to be long-lasting.
Elon Musk is definitely not someone stuck in the rat race. His secret?
But it’s true. When starting out, you need to be willing to work 80 hours a week to properly escape the 40- to 45-hour week of the rat race.
Step 5: Stop Hating Mondays
If you’ve done your job properly in step 1 above, then this is going to be a given. But it takes at least 21 days to change a habit, so start teaching yourself to stop hating Mondays even before you get started.
Why? Because when you realize that Monday is no different from Friday – another day with the opportunity to change the world, even if it’s only your own – it will quickly become your most productive day. You’re rested from the weekend and motivated to do what it takes to stay out of the rat race.
And one day, maybe you’ll be able to afford to have a long weekend every weekend because of it.
Step 6: Shift to a Value-Creation Mindset
In the rat race, you’re guaranteed a paycheck so long as you do the minimum.
And the guy in the next cubicle, who’s working so much harder than you, is getting the same paycheck. So once again – why work harder when you can just work “smarter” by sticking to the minimum?
That’s a mindset you need to shed if you want to escape the rat race. The only way to survive out here is to be putting your best foot forward all the time and constantly improving yourself.
Here’s the step-by-step approach:
- Ask yourself what your clients (present and future) want and need;
- Identify their problems and what you can do to not only create a solution, but go the extra mile;
- And finally, once you’ve built up enough value credit, start thinking about how to leverage it for higher rates.
Step 7: Do It
Once you’ve got all of the above in place, it’s time to take the deep dive.
Yes, it’s scary. It can be overwhelming. You may need to do a bunch of online courses before you’re confident enough to start.
But it’s now or never. Rip the band-aid off by giving notice at your rat race job and start looking forward to freedom.
Jobs to Escape the Rat Race
Before we close off this article, we’d like to help you get your money-making creative juices flowing with some ideas on what to do to earn money outside of the rat race.
Our top 10 picks are:
- Online Bookkeeping Jobs
- Online Tutoring
- Online Transcription Jobs
- Typing Jobs from Home
- Virtual Assistant Jobs
- Virtual Call Center Jobs
- Work from Home as a Travel Agent
- Online Proofreading Jobs for Beginners
- Online Customer Service Jobs
- Make Money as a Notary
Leaving the rat race is something most people only dream of. But using this article as your guide, you can stand out from the crowd by making that dream your new reality.