How do you escape the rat race of life?
I’ve been having a mild existential crisis lately. Discussions have come up about the “bigger life things”: where to live, kids, retirement goals. You know- the serious sh*t. It’s made me question everything.
We’re talking about concepts years away, but it’s thrown my brain into an intense overdrive. For the past few years I’ve been so hell bent on paying down my debt and trying to make ends meet that I haven’t thought too much beyond it. I had to work as much as I could because my debt load was so heavy. Working more was always the answer.
It feels weirdly guilty asking myself questions about what my dream (within the concepts of reality) future might look like. Once I started asking myself what I really want rather than what I simply “need to do”, I felt more stressed than when I felt option-less. They weren’t kidding when they said having too many options can be stressful!!
I’ve had to confront some painful questions about whether the path I’m on can create the life I want. What is really important to me? What am I willing and unwilling to give up?
That lead to a bigger problem; if I’m not on the right path, how do you escape the rat race??
My natural tendency when it comes to money is to set huge goals and fixate on paying off my debt as soon as possible. In essence, I’m a psychotic financial squirrel storing away money for when winter comes.
[Side thought: Is it problematic that the animal I choose to identify with most commonly (squirrel) happens to be one of my boyfriends most hated animals?…… Nah. Seems fine…]
I feel so trapped by my debt and savings goals sometimes that the only way I can see out is to have so much savings that I never need to work/think about money again. For this reason I gravitate towards the concept of FIRE (Financial Independence; Retire Early).
For some good reads on FIRE, check out:
- Everything you need to know about FIRE (my article explaining it all)
- The Simple Path to Wealth (an amazing financial book)
- Mr Money Mustache (my favorite blog… but please come back here afterwards!)
Having full freedom of choice at the point of financial independence sounds so exciting to me. For someone who has lived more in “have to” land, being able to ask myself what I want to do each day sounds amazing.
There’s a massive issue I’ve bumped up against with the concept of financial independence though: It focuses very strongly on tomorrow rather than today. Work tons and save all your money now, so that you don’t have to work at all later. But what if I want to enjoy now too? I love having time to relax, read, be active, and cook good food. What if I want more of those, but don’t want to be totally retired? how do you balance that?
The way I saw it, there were two paths to retirement:
- The status quo, or “normal” way. Essentially this is the format most people follow. You plod along through life always working and doing what is conventionally normal. Maybe you save 10% of your income for retirement like you “should”, but you spend the rest. This allows you the nicer house and lifestyle right now, with the idea that you’ll require a steady stream of income and work until you retire at 65 (hopefully). You have more spending money now, but you don’t really have a safety net. If your job goes away, or you get sick and are unable to work, you instantly need to replace it. If you hate your job and want to make a change, you also likely financially can’t afford to do so. High lifestyle, but little choice.
- The FIRE way. You drastically cut your living expenses now, and optimize your income as much as possible. By saving 50-90% of your take home pay, you can possibly retire in single digit years (the amount of people retired at 30 will blow your mind. Just google it). Once you reach FIRE you no longer rely on a conventional job to support you, so you’re free to “retire” and pursue whatever you’d like at that point. Obviously this lifestyle requires you to live very frugally so you may be sacrificing a lot now, but you have tons of choice later.
It’s the eternal debate in my head of the future isn’t promised so YOLO versus “future me going to hate this decision when I’m living on cat food”.
Obviously both are very extreme sides and slightly ridiculous, but you get my point. Black or white; which side do I choose??
So that preamble leads to this morning. I was listening to an AffordAnything podcast called Seven Ways To Escape The Rat Race while I got ready for work. I love Paula Pant (the interviewer) and she’s a huge champion for retiring early, so I expected the podcast to follow that line of thinking. Instead, the interviewee Michael Robin managed to completely surprise me. They discussed how escaping the rat race can obviously come from financial independence (having enough savings to support your lifestyle without needing a job), but that it doesn’t HAVE to.
According to the Business Dictionary the rat race is defined as having “no work-life balance, no independence, high stress, long commutes, and general dissatisfaction with life”
Basic summary: work rules your life, and you feel there’s no escape in sight.
Michael Robin explained the rat race a little differently. As he puts it:
The good news with that? It means you can use your mind to re-frame your perspective and change it. And no, that doesn’t always mean retiring early (although… he did).
Michael discusses multiple ways to get out of the rat race right now including gratitude (how to stop feeling sorry for yourself), taking a sabbatical, or doing passion work.
I find it fascinating that each person that listens to the podcast (check it out here) will likely gravitate towards a different version of escape. As one of my favorite quotes goes:
There’s no SHOULD in personal finance.
Ultimately, no one can tell you the best path to take in life or finance. We can supply you with lots of options, but the decision in choosing what your priorities are remains yours.
For me personally, I gravitated towards the “passion work” concept where you’re enthusiastic about everyday life even if you earn less. You still work, but you do work that inspires you and makes you feel excited. I have no desire to be retired; I love being busy. However, I want to be able to choose what I’m busy doing. Passion work fits this beautifully.
If the rat race is a mental construct, I can leave it by re-evaluating my goals. If I felt like I needed my debt paid off in a couple years (which I still struggle to give up on), yes, I’d need to work full-time at my current career right now. However, if I’m okay taking a bit longer to pay it off I can work part-time at my “real career” while pursuing other passions that might pay less (like blogging). I’ll also have more time for lifestyle habits that make me happy such as getting outside, cooking, and socializing. [I wrote an entire post on how much it costs to be happy and would suggest giving it a read!).
At the end of your life, what REALLY matters to you? How could you have a little more of that right now? What are you willing to give up to have it?
They’re not easy questions, but the answers are the antidote to the rat race. How do you escape the rat race? By re-evaluating your current life, and creating a better maze.
For a list of all articles I’ve written (binge-reading time!) click here