Escaping the Rat Race

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Top career and personal development coach James Sweetman on how to throw off the shackles of the rat race.

The term ‘rat race’ conjures up images of an unfortunate rodent scurrying on a wheel. It strives but never arrives.

We can all feel like that rat some times, trapped in a seemingly endless and pointless pursuit that is devoid of any real meaning. So what’s the cure? How do you escape the rat race? The obvious answer is to up and leave and go write poetry by the sea or join an ashram in India, but that is usually not a practical option in the short-term.

So what is?

Less cynicism, more curiosity

You will never escape the rat race unless you believe that your life could be different. You have to get curious about what is possible for you.

Unfortunately, if you cannot drop the cynicism and scepticism (remember they are only self protection mechanisms anyway) and shake off the helplessness, then you truly are trapped. If you are not even willing to question the status quo, nothing will change.

The sad truth is that the reason so many people feel stuck in the rat race is that they have simply given up on their dreams. Before you can draft a successful escape plan you have to see beyond your current reality. You have to start dreaming again.

What’s your dream? What would you like your life to be like? How would you love to spend your days? (A lotto win is the lazy response and hardly an escape plan you can rely on.)

As ever when thinking about goals, dreams and ambitions, listen to your gut instinct. I’ve not met anyone yet who doesn’t have an inkling deep down of something they would love to do, or at least try. At first, park the ‘how’ and focus on the ‘what.’

What do you want?

The ‘how’ to achieve it comes later. If you think about it, if you cannot envisage an alternative future, how can you take steps towards it?

I heard a lovely phrase recently, I can’t remember the source, but it went something like ‘God has a bigger dream for you than you could ever dream for yourself.’ Allow yourself to dream just a little and remember as Walt Disney said ‘our dreams are just previews of life’s coming attractions.’

Fuel your soul

Many people die a little more on the inside everyday whilst stuck in traffic commuting to a job which at best they tolerate. Escaping the rat race is not always about radical changes, it’s about adjusting how we view our lives.

Like a pair of binoculars that have gone out of focus, rather than viewing your current situation through a lens of fear or scarcity, how could you view your current circumstances through the lens of gratitude and appreciation.

For me the phrase ‘fuelling your soul’ sums up beautifully those activities, those moments that simply make us feel alive.

It’s worth connecting with them more consciously, to resource and even inspire ourselves. Think back over the last few months, when were you happiest, when did you feel most alive?

I would venture that many of these occasions didn’t involve handing over big amounts of cash. Here are some of the ways I fuel my soul:

  • Going for a walk in nature
  • Curling up with an inspirational book (free if you get one from the library or borrow from a friend.)
  • Listening to my favourite up-lifting music
  • Visiting a museum or art gallery, most are free
  • Updating my vision board
  • Heading out with my camera
  • Having friends over for a bite to eat

The rat race is exhausting. If you have to stay in it for at least the short-term, then you need to know how to resource yourself.

Evolution not revolution

We all know the phrase, ‘if nothing changes everything stays the same.’

Whilst some clients I work with in this area make radical changes in their lives, most people take small, regular steps which over time lead to the changes they seek. Sometimes this involves consciously spending more time pursuing a hobby at the weekend. Sometimes is means getting a new business off the ground by working on it at night. It might mean doing some research, having new conversations with people or volunteering to gain experience, but the point is you need to do something different.

Unfortunately when you are in the rat race, work and other responsibilities will always fill a vacuum, therefore to create a better work life balance and to work on your escape plan you have to purposefully put time aside and invest your energy in new activities.

Many people feel they have sold-out, doing work that isn’t meaningful to them. They feel like the rat, enslaved by financial commitments, routine and the burdens of everyday life. Regretfully that is not making a living, it’s making a dying.

However as adult humans we have one advantage over the rat, we have a choice.

We can choose how we view our current situation. We can choose to stay on the wheel or we can choose something different. We start by getting curious, by dreaming, by ceasing to bury our hearts desires and by balancing our need for security and approval with just a modicum of courage.

James Sweetman is a Business and Personal Coach, specialising in assisting individuals and firms to be more effective at what they do. He works both on a one-2-one basis with individual clients as well as delivering tailored training workshops on a range of topics including confidence-building and presentation skills. For more information visit his website.