Quitting The Rat Race

What it is, and how to escape it.

Image Credit: Steve Cutts

Look around at all the people you know. What are they all doing?

When I asked myself this question, I realized people in my network were all doing roughly the same few things:

  • Working too much
  • Chasing money
  • Seeking a cocktail of attention/significance
  • Looking for success without knowing what it was

These four things are what I call the rat race. The rat race, to me, is trying to find happiness and fulfillment in being like everybody else and following a set formula.

Life in the rat race is like trying to copy someone else’s masterpiece hoping to feel like you did it all by yourself and learned something along the way.

So, I made a decision to quit the rat race. This meant being different and treading my own path.

There was no pre-defined plan. Basically, there were three rules:

  1. Grow in the process
  2. Do things that scare me
  3. Find things I love and do more of them

Pretty simple rules if you ask me and cliche at best — but effective when implemented.

Here’s how to quit the rat race:


Bust your biggest fear

The rat race leans towards comfort. The opposite idea is to confront your fears. In my case, it was busting one fear that kickstarted the process. My biggest fear was flying on an airplane.

Growing up during September 911 had a more profound effect on me than I realized. My family also feared flying too which didn’t help either.

The decision to do things that scared me meant that the first one on the list was to fly. So I took a 60-minute flight from Melbourne to Sydney. The flight reminded me of what it felt like to get a blood test for the first time.

Before the flight, there were nerves, during the flight felt like having a needle in my arm, and well after the flight, I felt like I could do anything. Small steps. One fear at a time.


Being yourself no matter the consequence

A fundamental problem with being part of the rat race is that you become like everybody else — thus not being yourself. When you have to wake up each day and act out everybody else’s life, it feels like crap.

It takes so much time and energy to be someone else when it would be ten times easier just to be yourself.

In your own skin, living your own way, you can feel what it’s like to have pride in yourself.

Escaping the rat race, for me, was about being unapologetically myself and sharing my story — both the good bits and the bad bits. There were consequences to making that decision, but I later found out that the upside was even better.

Illustration: Guy Billout

You connect to people on a completely different level when you are yourself and are not afraid to talk about what you’ve done wrong just as much as what you’ve done well.

Only talking about your successes is surface level. Going deeper means you have to also talk about your mistakes, screw-ups, tough times, failures and misjudged decisions.


Saving money

Right at the start, I said that chasing money put you square in the middle of the rat race. Saving money is the opposite.

When you save money, you buy yourself time and that means you don’t have to live your life on the hamster wheel of an endless pursuit for money and material objects that can’t join you in your grave when you die.

Saving money is a discipline where you’re always saving for a rainy day so that at some point, you’ll have some money put aside. When you have savings, you get more freedom, you buy yourself time and you don’t need to be as reactive.

If you lose your primary source of income tomorrow, you have time.
If your car breaks down, you can fix it.
If you need to spend money on upgrading your skills, you can.

All of this is made possible with savings. As the line out of Rich Dad Poor Dad says, and it sums up this idea fantastically, pay yourself first. Every time you get money, put some away where you can’t touch it.


Investing money

The second part of saving money is multiplying it. This allows you to further escape the rat race of over-consuming, and get paid while you sleep.

Outside of the rat race, you have multiple streams of income that allow you to:

  • Make more art
  • Take more breaks
  • Have extra time with your family

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well taking your savings and investing it in things that pay you a passive income is a good idea.

It’s worth reading a few books on investing before you start otherwise you could end up joining the rat race again by losing all your money. “Money master the game” is a good book to start with.


Learning to communicate

Once you can communicate well, you can do anything. So much of life is not about how smart you are but how good you are at conveying a message and influencing people to take action.

Closely tied to my fear of flying was public speaking. Learning the art of speaking properly without um’s and ah’s took a lot of practice. It cost me $150 a year to join Toastmasters and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made.

When you’re not following everybody else, you’ll find yourself having opinions, ideas and wanting to share stories that challenge people’s view of the world. This is the opposite of the rat race.

You’ll learn to question everything you know and everything that everybody else knows who is ‘following the plan.’ Knowing how to communicate helps.


Writing every day

Even if you’ve given up the idea of the rat race, you’re still going to be consumed by negative thoughts, down days, people dying around you and tiredness or burnout. This is the human condition.

What writing does is allow you to metaphorically dump all of this toxicity into words on your computer. Once you write it down, the problem doesn’t hold the same power anymore. Putting it into words helps you to see the problem for what it is — most of the time it’s seeing how ridiculous the problem is in reality.

Writing something small every day and then taking step two and publishing it somewhere, is next level in my opinion. It’s freeing for your mind and it also has the potential to help someone else who may be trapped in their own head.


Reading two books a month

Life will look oddly similar the more you read. Your human experience will not seem that odd when you read two autobiography books a month.

Reading sparks ideas and takes the mind off the hamster wheel.

Curiosity and creativity are sparked with regular reading. I have reading to partly thank for understanding what the rat race is, and then finding the strategies to escape it.

Image Credit: Steve Cutts

Not focusing on what’s wrong with the world

Any normal person can point out what’s wrong with the world. Anyone can be a critic. Anyone can tell you what’s wrong.

The biggest idea that will help you escape the rat race is to find what’s right with the world; it’s finding the good in every situation; it’s not jumping to conclusions; it’s learning to develop compassion for those that do the wrong thing.

It’s being the man/woman that can find something good in a situation when everyone else in the room has nothing nice to say or is being consumed by negativity.

The rat race is being an armchair critic. The rat race is letting your brain that is millions of years old run on its default survival mode that can only see what is wrong and when there is danger.

See the good in the world.

Escape the rat race. Life is actually pretty good.


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