It's difficult to pin down the moment you joined the hamster cage. It just kind of ... happened.
When you found yourself in university, you probably didn't have much money. You 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, lots of people reflect on those days fondly.
Then you entered the workforce and started making real money. Suddenly, you needed a nice car to take clients around town and a big house to demonstrate your newfound success. But these things you accumulated didn't do anything to improve your lifestyle. In truth, the more money you made, the more stuff you needed. When you get a promotion, you still can't advance because your burn rate equals what you make.
The problem with the hamster cage is that there's no journey's end. There's nobody waiting in 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 within this cycle of consumption, the more natural it becomes. You forget that it wasn't always like that.
Effective ways to 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 sustain, it's easy to saddle yourself with a hefty mortgage and an expensive car payment and after that convince yourself that's what will make you happy, but it's important to realize that your stressors are entirely self-inflicted.
Fortunately is that you got yourself onto the wheel, which means you can get yourself off of it.
1. Change your workweek.
The 9-to-5 grind is gospel in the rat race, but it's not the best way to put money in the bank. Instead of concentrating on putting out fires and generating immediate results, consider dedicating at least 15 percent of your time to activities that improve your lifestyle and 40 percent of your time to developing new platforms (rather than maintaining existing ones).
What if you spent Monday, Wednesday, and Friday knocking out your daily priorities and dedicated Tuesday and Thursday to operating on a new long-term project? Imagine you took some days off? It's crazy, I know, but reorganizing your routine can help you escape the wheel.
2. Pay yourself.
If you speak to a rat who has been running the wheel for decades, he'll tell you that he earns 10 times what he used to, but his quality of life has not improved. The more he works, the more he spends, and the faster his income disappears. If you intend to escape this vicious cycle, you must pay yourself first and sock some money away to accumulate for the future.
3. Only buy things that contribute to your quality of life.
Our culture of consumption is often what pulls us into the rat race in the first place. It's drilled into us from a very young age that a big house with a yard and a white picket fence is central to the American Dream, but did you really buy a house, or did you just get yourself a job as a handyman/gardener?
At some point, the belongings you own starts to own you. Whatever you spend your money on, make certain it enhances your quality of life.
4. Lead by example.
When you plant your feet on firm ground for the very first time in years, you might look around and notice you don't have much company. The rat race may have even consumed your business.
To help your employees escape the rat race, you first need to demonstrate proof of the concept in your own life. Then try giving them some time during the week to work on their passion projects, and encourage them to invest in themselves. After all, you don't want a bunch of people working on the wheel for you when you worked so hard to get off of it yourself!
Once you escape the rat race, you'll have the opportunity to move freely and appreciate the world around you without getting dizzy. Remember: Life is a journey, not the destination, and you don't wish to spend that journey on a treadmill going nowhere.
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