Could You Pull the Ripcord on the Rat Race?

by Brian on April 28, 2011 in Location Independence,Personal Development

One of the biggest times you feel stuck in your life is when you are tied to a job that you don’t see a way out of. You feel like you are on a path that you can’t escape. You might also have family depending on you financially which makes you feel guilty and selfish for wanting to make a change in your life. 

You might even be living comfortably on your income, but still secretly fear how you would be able to pay the bills and put food on the table if you got fired, laid off, or finally worked up the nerve to take a stab at starting a new business.

You probably think you are tied to your job, but you are freer than you think.

You might believe you are stuck in your current job, career, or financial situation for some of these reasons:

  • I’m living paycheck to paycheck, I can’t afford to lose/quit my job.
  • I may not like my job, but I’ve spent years paying my dues in this field to get where I am and I’d have to take a huge pay cut and start over from scratch if I changed careers.
  • I have a family to support, I have to provide for them.
  • My friends and family would think I was a bum if I quit or lost my job. I don’t think I could face them.
  • If I have to get another regular job, I wont be able to get a good one if there is a blank spot on my resume for too long.

If you think about it, there are really two different categories of concern. There is a very real physical concern about being able to get food and shelter, and there is a second group of concerns related to social status.

Your Physical Backup Plan

For the physical concerns, you need a backup plan.

Do you have parents or relatives you could stay with while you get back on your feet? This is a hard one for people in Western society as we stigmatize adults who still live with their parents as being failures. However, there’s nothing inherent about living with your parents that means you are a failure. In many traditional Eastern cultures it is normal, if not preferable, for multiple generations of a family to live together. Your parents will probably also be happy to have your company.

If you have parents or relatives you can stay with you have taken care of the biggest expense–rent. Now you also need to eat and pay for gas money. Do you have an emergency fund savings account to buffer your transition? Could you take a part time job for a while? Though it may not be enough to live on entirely yet, do you have a side business that provides some income? Maybe you want to start an internet business and you could move away from the city to a cheaper area while you are getting it off the ground.

There are any number of ways you could create a safe landing zone for after you’ve pulled the ripcord on the rat race.

Your Emotional Backup Plan

In all honesty, the physical backup plan is the easy part. It’s the psychological aspect of social status issues that will be the hardest to come to terms with.

As much as we might like to think we live in an egalitarian society, there is a primal part of our brain that responds very sensitively to social status. It causes us to do all kinds of crazy things like buy stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t like and take jobs we perceive to be socially acceptable and respected even though we hate the work.

There are two fundamental flaws in our thinking:

1. Your story is more important than your bank account.

Let’s say you meet two people at a bar… Except I’m not particularly fond of bars, so let’s say you meet them at the beach while traveling. One of them quit his job to fulfill his lifelong dream of making boutique furniture, he now owns his own business selling his own custom made pieces. The other person is a banker.

Which person do you think would be more interesting to talk to? Which person do you think enjoys their job more? Which person would you rather be?

Now here’s an interesting question. Which person do you think makes more money?

Hard to say. It could go either way. The banker could be a loan officer making $20,000 a year or an investment banker on wall street making $500,000 a year. The furniture maker may make millions a year selling high end custom pieces or he may have sold exactly one chair for $50.

Notice how your level of respect for each person changes dramatically when actual numbers are painted into the picture. You literally can’t help but judge.

However, in a normal conversation people generally don’t sit down and compare tax returns to see who made the most money and rank themselves accordingly. Often what really happens is that people share their stories about who they are and what they are doing in life and judge each other based on how interesting that sounds.

The real problem is that your own subconscious mind thinks you are a deadbeat when you are in transition and you know to the exact penny how little money you actually have.

Instead of focusing on your bank account, focus on your story. What direction are you taking in life that others would envy? How is this a pivotal moment in your life where you are making a change from the life you had to the life you actually wanted?

People are attracted to people with interesting stories and want to be around people who are pursuing growth in their lives. It’s true that people are also attracted to people with money, but odds are these are probably not the kind of people that you want to attract.

2. We give up on being extraordinary to be average.

What did you dream of becoming when you were a child? A fireman? An actor? An astronaut?

What job did you actually take when you got out of school? Loan officer? Administrative assistant? Computer programmer? Excel jockey? Was it even in the same field that you dreamed about?

Obviously your idea of what you wanted to become has matured since childhood, but for the sake of argument why did you take a job different from the one that you dreamed of (or still dream of)?

The job probably felt safe. It seemed like it was within your reach and you could make enough money to support yourself. Stick with it long enough and you could fairly predictably get a promotion and a decent raise within a couple of years. It was also a job you could confidently tell others about that made you feel like a respected member of society.

Our intense need for social acceptance literally overrides our dreams of being extraordinary and compels us to take the average jobs that we see everyone else taking. At the same time, it also magically convinces us that by taking this average job that we have taken a job that has an above average respect level.

Ironically, our overwhelming primal urge to be intensely average is one of the strongest forces that binds us to the rat race. It is the key factor that drives us to take jobs that we don’t like in exchange for perceived status and (not really that much) money.

In order to pull the ripcord on the rat race you need to remind yourself of why you wanted your freedom in the first place. Was it to travel? Was it to be your own boss? Was it to simply be master of your own time?

Would you rather be a free person making a living from your own passions (or at least trying) or an average slave… I mean person… stuck on the corporate treadmill headed for an unremarkable yet at least moderately comfortable 20-40 years until retirement.

Have a Backup Plan in Your Back Pocket

Even if you don’t pull the ripcord on the rat race, just knowing that you could gives you an incredible sense of freedom.

Spend a few minutes to think about where you would go, who you could stay with, what you would do for money, and how you would put food on the table if you decided to exit your current job situation and pursue a different path.

However, don’t meditate too much on your backup plan. Once you have this backup plan in place, tuck it away somewhere and just feel confident knowing that you have it. Focus more energy on thinking about how you’re going to get what you want than on how you’re going to escape from what you don’t want.



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