For so many of us, our lives follow a stereotypical pattern. We work five days a week for forty-eight weeks of the year to create the funds for our chosen lifestyle. This may include a nice house or car, a family, holidays and all of the other things that keep us entertained.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with living this way. We may feel inspired by our work and have a life full of adventure that ticks all of the pleasure boxes. If you are experiencing a constant stream of joy and fulfilment, then keep doing what you are doing. An inspired life can take many different forms.
But if you are finding that enduring satisfaction and contentment are eluding you, it may be time to make a change. In this short article, I want to highlight the illusion that lures us into the rat race and keeps us from fully experiencing our freedom.
I’m sure you have heard the expression ‘rat race’ but what does it actually mean? According to Wikipedia, the rat race is “an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit.” It originates from the practice of lab rats stuck in unsolvable mazes with no way to escape. The analogy can be mapped across to our professional and personal lives — how many times do we find ourselves at a dead end?
Being trapped in the rat race doesn’t mean that you don’t have a sense of purpose or passion for what you do. It is much more about losing sight of your personal freedom. We usually think of freedom as being free from the constraints of external circumstances but true freedom comes from no longer being driven by all-consuming states or misplaced desire.
An all-consuming state might be fear — the fear that our job might be taken away, the fear that we might run out of money, the fear that we aren’t good enough and if we stop and rest for a moment, the fear that we might just get found out.
Misplaced desire is the wanting that comes from examining our personal circumstances and finding them falling short. On some level, we still believe that there is something or someone that can bring us the personal fulfillment we are seeking. So we search for the soul mate, the promotion or the abundance that we believe will complete the jigsaw puzzle. Yet it rarely does. Usually we just find it was the wrong piece or even the wrong jigsaw.
So many of us talk about getting out of the rat race. Only a few successfully make it. Most do nothing to change their circumstances or worse still, escape the confines of employment, only to recreate the exact same experience in their own business. Why is this rat-race so compelling?
What we are striving for is intrinsically linked to the way in which we measure our value. Deep down, we need to know that we matter and so we want to prove our significance. We are looking for the external world to validate our own measures of self-worth. When life meets our expectations and acknowledges our value appropriately, we feel satisfied. But if we think we are getting a poor deal, we will do whatever we can to close the gap. We set goals and work at achieving them in an attempt to reconcile the difference. Some attempts succeed and we will temporarily feel the sense of satisfaction once more. Many will fail and so we set even more ambitious goals to overcome our disappointment.
It is easy to see how this rat-race locks us in. We are in a never-ending satisfaction hunt. Nothing on the outside will ever fill the gap for any significant length of time. The dreams just have to keep getting bigger and more compelling. But we never get to reach a place of peace, the lust for satisfaction keeps pulling us back.
You may not want to ditch the rat race and that is perfectly reasonable. Everyone is on their own unique path. But if you are now recognising that the desire for satisfaction can never be fulfilled externally, you may be looking for a way to break the cycle.
We do this by detaching our sense of value from the material world. We stop involving other people in our measurements of self-worth and turn our attention inwards. When we look within, we remember who we really are… and that is simply priceless!