Ah. The rat race. To quote of a mine “Screw the rat race.The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. This cant be life.” This was in the middle of a candid conversation with the said friend a while ago. On the surface everything seemed rosy. He had got a graduate job in his field of study after graduating from university a few years ago and he had been steadily employed ever since. But here he was telling me that he wasn’t happy working in an office all day with no opportunity to grow creatively.That already in his short working life the 9-5 routine was already starting to feel a bit mundane.That he felt he was caught up in the rat race.
What is the rat race? Right off the bat It conjures up the image of the futile efforts of a lab rat trying to escape while running around a maze or in a wheel. As an analogy to modern city life the rat race echoes how some of us feel about our work. We sometimes feel like rats in a single maze expending a lot of effort running around, but ultimately achieve nothing either collectively or individually. An endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit.
With this rant about the rat race still echoing in my head I started to think about what success is , and proceeded to quiz some of my other mates as to what it meant to them. One friend described success for her as a comfortable place, where she can live the way she wants and be happy.This got me thinking about the relationship between success and happiness. Often I have had friends say “I’ll be happy when I find a job.” “I’ll be happy when I get a promotion.” “I’ll be happy when my thesis is finished.” In short they will be happy when they are successful in a given task.This raised the question , does being successful equal happiness ?The formula in this case seems clear: work harder, then you’ll be successful, then you’ll be happier, but is it?
A lot of justify our commitment in running the rat race under this guise of a pursuit of happiness. How many times have we all mouthed the following “I’m working my ass off now so I can be happy when…[fill in the blank with a six figure banking job, make a scientific breakthrough, get into law school, etc.].
Another colleagues definition of success though was more succinct. He said that for him success is having an honest monogamous relationship with millions of dollars which allows us the freedom to travel and explore. I think this is a definition of success that the media and society in general forces on us. As a result we measure success with the make of your car,size of your bank account, your house, level and quality of your education and neighbourhoods. When we attain all this material wealth everything looks good from the outside in but is this really success or are we working toward the idea of what we have been told success is?
For me this how I choose to define success for me. If you love your work and stay true to your beliefs in spite of what you are pressured to do around you, that is success. Success is speaking your truth, not denying yourself. Contentment and having a set point of peace at the center of your being, pure in love, where daily challenges are met with integrity and creativity. Happiness is the ultimate success.
The rat race often leaves us stressed with its constant structure, little or no free time, slaving away trying to get that promotion, but human interaction and casual ability to relax is missing. It’s very hard to find happiness when you are still caught up in the rat race. Some of us might even go on to justify the rat race by indicating that we are doing so we can provide for our loved ones. Here is the thing though. Providing that’s not love. Being there that’s way more important. On the flip side you cant really be “there” if you cant provide for your family. So the balance then must lie somewhere in the middle. Money will never buy happiness. At most it can just be a down payment that can make it easier for you to be happy. That being said I refuse to accept that the rat race is the answer.
A rat race is for rats. We are not rats. We are human beings. Let us reject the insidious pressures of society that continue blunt our critical faculties to all the happenings around us that results in us sacrificing our happiness.
Success should not just be financially measured but is about developing oneself into the person you are here to be. There should only be one success we aim for , to be able to spend your life in our own way.
The rat race might be the default setting most of us find ourselves in but even so we shouldn’t be to afraid to press that reset button. If you hate your job then think of it as jail. Take it as punishment for being scared to pursue your dreams. Do your time! Then work your way out of it. But be responsible. Whilst I m not advocating for people to quit their jobs , without a workable plan. There are alternatives. Case in point my father. He worked almost 25 years for the “man”. But finally had the courage to preset reset and venture out on his own and became an entrepreneur. Something by his own admission that has given him great satisfaction and less job related mental strain. For some it might not be that in you are in the wrong career, just might be time to stop working for the “man “and maybe be the organiser of the rat race. Having spent a lot of time in laboratories , I can tell you this.You would rather be the guy running the experiment than the lab rat.
The lasting effect of that rant my mate had about the rat race, is that it reminded me that it is important for each of us to define success for ourselves , aggressively pursue our passions and remain responsible while doing it.That we can’t live life for others, but only for ourselves. Success can never really be , if we forfeit our happiness in the process.