Why do the rats race?

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When I found myself removed from the job market, I became an observer of the proverbial rat race. I was living in a 10-story apartment building downtown. Every morning, as I hustled my three kids onto the elevator to get them to school, I would also see all of the young professionals on their way to work. Showered, makeup, suits and heels. Perfume and cologne. Tumblers of coffee and packed lunches. Briefcases, backpacks, purses and rolling luggage. Everyone “looking the part.” At the time I could barely manage sweatpants and a t-shirt. 

Turn the clock forward 10-11 hours and the show would run in reverse. Everyone returning back to the building, back to their apartments, back to the “rest” of their lives.

 

It was only the second time in my professional life that I found myself existing outside of the hustle culture. I still remember the first time too. In the months between my first career and my second career, I remember dropping off my daughter at school and then going to the grocery store. I remember thinking how weird it felt. And wondering if this was what it was like to feel like a “normal” mom?

As I found myself watching this ritual play out day after day, I couldn’t help but wonder . . . do we live to work or work to live? How exactly did we find ourselves living this way; spending the majority of our lives dressing for other people, working for other people, perpetuating brands, organizations, and industries with the majority of our waking hours?

Now, before all of the employers ban me, please hear me out. I absolutely understand and value how many good things can come out of work. I would not be the person I am today without the professional and personal experiences, relationships and opportunities that were the direct result of the jobs I have held. 

Where things can get tricky from a personal well-being perspective is when we forget WHY we are running the rat race. Or when our reasons for running that race have become disassociated from who WE really are and what we require in order to thrive. And why does thriving matter? When we thrive, we bring our very best to the world. And frankly, I think the world needs the best of us. 

I believe, and research shows, that we thrive when we are connected with a larger purpose, cause, or higher being in the world. And when we are all connected to the greater good, we do good. We innovate. We create solutions. We help others. We build up instead of destroy. And we become better caretakers of each other, of nature, and the world at large.

But sometimes, often perhaps, we find ourselves sprinting through our lives; propelled forward by fear or by definitions of success that aren’t really “ours”. Perhaps we have anchored all of our self-worth in our work and we are terrified that we don’t have any inherent value without our jobs, titles, salaries, certifications, degrees and accomplishments. 

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Maybe we find ourselves in a self-perpetuated cycle . . . as we work, we attain a certain level of lifestyle or comfort . . . and as we “succeed”, the expense of our lifestyle paces with or slightly outpaces the increase in pay that comes with more responsibility. We keep pushing forward because we are compelled by our financial, social, and family obligations.

Maybe we have spent a lifetime just doing the next socially expected thing. Grow up. Go to school. Get a job. Buy a car. Get married. Advance our career. Buy a house. Get promoted. Have kids. Buy a bigger house. Earn more money. Pay for college. Buy a nicer car. Work until retirement. 

I asked someone once what his motivation was for working so hard. His answer was, with a sweep of his hand, “to pay for all of this.” “This” referred to the house, cars, kids, schools, camps, travel, high-end furnishings, etc. I have no quarrel with working hard or following a traditional path or having high income goals. I am not even going to suggest that every person needs to work their passion as is very much part of the cultural conversation these days. I think there is not a “one size fits all” solution to work and careers. 

In my first career, my sole motivation was trying to satisfy a perfectionist boss. Yes, I wanted new challenges. Yes, I wanted the opportunity to earn more money over time. But at the very core of why I worked sometimes around the clock, on weekends, holidays, and from labor and delivery, was the fear of disappointing someone I was desperate to please. And it didn’t take very long for me to lose sight of my own needs (other than the need for survival). And because I was completely out of touch with what I needed and wanted, I often pushed myself beyond my mental, physical and emotional capacity. I sacrificed time with my children than I can never get back. I didn’t ask for help when I really needed it; building walls in some of my relationships. I wasn’t able to be present with people when I was with them because I was always thinking about work. I used coping mechanisms that came at a high financial cost. And when I left that job, I had no idea who I was, or what I cared about. It took me nine months to re-discover enough about myself to find my next career path.

When we run the rat race on someone else’s terms, it is easy to spin our wheels and miss our lives. We push ourselves to the point of breakdown or illness or both because we don’t know when to say stop. And we don’t know when to say stop because we have lost the ability to listen to our own needs, knowledge, intuition and wisdom.

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When I work with clients, I help them rediscover and reconnect to the parts of themselves they may have ignored for weeks, months, years, or decades. We work together to uncover who they are separate from what they do or how much they earn so that we can create a strong foundation for the path ahead. If you are interested in learning more about working with me, click here to schedule a FREE 30-Minute Discovery Call.

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