The rat race is primarily a metaphor that is used to describe the archetypal life of an employee trying to work harder and harder to make a better life for themselves. In the world of work, the expression has a pejorative meaning, since it compares this way of life to the condition of a rat, trying to escape from its cage without realising that there is no way out. Let’s take a look at the history of this concept and, above all, answer the famous question “how to get out of the rat race?”
Rat race: definition and concept
What is the rat race?
The concept of the rat race refers to the constant struggle of individuals to succeed and advance in their careers, often at the expense of their well-being and personal lives.
Generally, this manifests itself on the professional side in a frantic race to achieve ambitious goals: getting promotions, increasing income…. This is characterised by the famous “metro, work, sleep” life.
In fact, the term rat race refers to the fact that individuals act (and feel) like rats constantly running in a wheel, never really moving forward or achieving the success they seek.
The reason the rat race is so pejorative is that our western societies, especially via the professional world, are sources of great pressure, systematically leading to an increase in anxiety in individuals who feel constantly stressed to ‘succeed’.
Robert Kiyosaki explains very simply in his book “Rich Dad Poor Dad“, how the rat race prevents the poor and less well-off from achieving true wealth. He also explains what mechanisms you need to put in place in your life to escape it.
The history of the rat race
There is no official date for the first use of the term rat race.
It is known, however, that it originated in the United States, in a booming post-war economy (probably in the 1950s), pushing every individual in society to adopt an ultra-consumerist lifestyle.
This is basically what is being criticised through the metaphor of the rat race: a society of extreme consumption, where only the accumulation of money and material goods count, undeniably leading to a flight of fancy for all individuals who accept this way of life.
Why do people accept the rat race?
After reviewing the definition and history of the rat race we all agree on one thing: there is nothing positive about it.
Yet the majority of the world’s citizens and workers embrace a lifestyle that seems to fit the rat race. Perhaps you do too?
But why then? Are there any advantages to accepting the rat race?
There are several factors that make people accept the rat race, the two most important being security and short-term happiness.
The rat race offers security and excludes risk
This is the first element to be taken into account: the condition of the work.
The archetypal individual who is in the rat race is an employee, with a permanent contract, who has the comfort of a regular and guaranteed salary. Each month, he knows that he will receive a sum of money, regardless of the quality of his work, ensuring a high standard of living.
The rat race therefore promises a certain quality of life, or at least a minimum of security.
This is even truer in Europe and especially in France: the benefits granted to a company employee guarantee real job security, all the more so for professions in the tertiary sector, which are considered to be non-strenuous.
Finally, like the domesticated rat in the cage, the model individual who accepts the rat breed is secure in his lifestyle, gets food at the end of the month, and can pursue his favourite hobbies without having to worry about the risks he might encounter if he were financially independent and free.
The rat race allows for relative but present happiness
Since there are no constraints related to money, the rat race allows all those who are in it to fully dedicate their minds and attention to the pleasures of consumer society. They can spend and buy whatever they want, without having to make any forecasts, because at the beginning of each month the process repeats itself: the money that allows them to live decently comes back to them.
This frantic pursuit of happiness and the accumulation of wealth gives the illusion of an ultimate goal to be achieved, which is never really reached.
It is precisely because it is unattainable that the race is endless: the individual feels that he has a goal to strive for, something undeniably pushes him to continue.
How to leave the rat race?
We explain, step by step, how you can leave the rat race.
Knowing how much you need to live independently
If you want to be free and no longer dependent on others, you must be independent.
Financial independence and freedom requires first of all that you determine how much you need so that you do not have to wait for other people’s money.
This is what you should calculate first.
List all your expenses and costs, down to the smallest dollar, to understand how much money you need to have each month to be independent.
A simple way to keep track of your expenses and learn how to control them is to use a kakeibo: a small diary that allows you to categorise each amount spent, no matter how much, into separate categories to help you manage your finances.
Educating yourself financially
Getting out of the rat race is also an opportunity to review your spending habits: do you really need to spend so much money each month? Aren’t there areas of spending that you could cut back on to invest that money more intelligently?
Again, list all your leisure expenses, exclude necessities (rent, insurance, food) and analyse the whole.
Rank each of these expenses in order of importance and cross out the ones at the bottom of the list. Getting out of the rat race means getting out of this extreme consumerist society: you no longer have to be a victim of your impulses when it comes to making purchases.
For each craving, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
If you have always struggled with this question, we have the perfect book for you: “Do you really need it? “by Pierre-Yves McSween.
The author sifts through all the reasons that drive you to consume, explains why they are not rational and sheds light on the marketing traps set by brands.
Review your consumption habits
It is difficult to realise how much we consume.
It is complicated to understand where you can start to reduce your expenses and save more money.
That’s why financial education is a necessary step in your goal to escape the rat race.
You need to understand money, understand how to build a healthy relationship with it, how it should become your servant and not the other way around.
Unfortunately, financial education is not something that is taught in school. You have to teach yourself this crucial discipline to get out of the rat race.
Here are 4 books to educate you financially:
- Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
- I will teach you to be rich – Ramith Sethi
- The 4-hour week – Tim Ferriss
- Rich father poor father – Robert Kiyosaki
You can find the full list in our dedicated article on the best financial education books.
Create passive income sources
Since you are no longer working as an employee, you no longer receive your monthly salary, which was previously your only source of income.
You will need to replace it, yes, but differently.
The idea is not to sell your time for money, as is the case for most employees: the money earned is proportional to the time spent working for the company.
This time you have to find ways to make money passively, you have to find ways to accumulate capital that is not tied to time value.
You have to find out how to make so much money, you have to find out how to multiply your sources of income.
1 hour of work should earn you as much as 5 hours, 20 hours or 100 hours of work.
These sources of passive income have a name: they are called scalable businesses.
Behind this pompous word that could be translated as scaling up is simply the idea of working and creating something once (or for a limited time) to generate income on a regular basis, totally uncorrelated with the time invested.
There are many examples of scalable businesses generating passive income:
- Writing a book
- Keeping a blog
- Selling a digital product
- Selling online training
- Investing in real estate
- Investing in the stock market
While the first four examples require expertise and special training, the last two examples require nothing more from you than to mobilise some start-up capital in order to invest it.
Investing your money
The ultimate key to getting out of the rat race and achieving financial freedom is to make your money work instead of working for money.
While this may seem silly at first, it makes sense if you take a step back.
Instead of selling time of your life for a salary with the intention of spending it on material goods that lose value over time, you need to take money from passive income and reinvest some of it in profitable investments.
If you understand this, you will find the way out of the rat race.
By investing your money in profitable investments, you generate each year, each month, each week, each day, an increase in value that makes you richer than the day before, without having to work more!
Of course, dealing with rental property or investing in the stock market requires a few hours of work per month, even if only at the beginning, to find the ideal property or stock to invest in.
But this time spent is nothing compared to the money that your investment will bring in the future.
Rental property, like the stock market, are investments that allow you to achieve real leverage effects: a small amount invested becomes, without additional work, a considerable amount of money after several decades.
It is probably no coincidence that real estate is the preferred investment of the French: the simplicity of the work involved and the income it guarantees can truly change a life.
Where your salary remains proportional to the time you spend working, the money you invest grows over time in a natural and detached way.
If each year you reinvest part of your earnings, then it’s a real snowball effect:
- In real estate, you will be able to invest in a larger property and rent it out at a higher price.
- In the stock market, you can buy more shares which will bring you more dividends and therefore more income.
Leaving the rat race is not that complicated. The hardest step is the first one: wanting to change your lifestyle and take the first step towards financial freedom. By becoming aware of your consumption habits and the levers available to you to adopt a better life, there is no doubt that you will succeed in leaving the rat race.