What is the ‘Rat Race’, Really?
I was doing the usual Sunday chores and housekeeping this morning, and decided to let YouTube whisk me down the rabbit hole to have some background noise as I did my thing. As I’m sure most of us no doubt know, Youtube’s algorithms combined with autoplay can produce widely varying results, such as a video on nutrition and diet leading to a Ted Talk about mushrooms suits that decompose you when you die (true story).
I’ve found the algorithm has tightened up quite a bit though in the last year and a bit, and is quite good at keeping you more or less on topic. Such is what happened to me this morning. A few videos in, the binary overlords deemed my next video to be “Escaping the Rat Race: What School Failed to Teach You About Money” by James Jani. James is a YouTuber whose work I admire for the attention to detail, quality of execution, and solid narratives. He puts in a lot of work, and while I don’t watch his videos regularly, when I do come across them they are always worth the time.
Throughout the video, he covers numerous points about consumerism and our behaviours towards money. I won’t discuss everything he covered here — you should go and watch the video for yourselves (linked above). One topic he did cover was the so-called ‘Rat Race’, a concept with which most everyone is familiar. I want to elaborate a little on that concept today, as he makes some astute observations which largely echo my own thoughts on the subject.
When most people imagine the Rat Race, they imagine someone working a 9–5 office job, beholden to a boss, a paycheque, a life of economic servitude to further someone else’s dream at the expense of your own. To hold down a 9–5 is something to be looked down upon by those enlightened enough to choose to pursue the path of entrepreneurship, and achieve financial freedom and live life on their terms.
Is that really the case though?
The finance and entrepreneurship gurus would certainly have us believe so. After all, it’s in their best interests to sell their courses and programs. We all want to strive for better, don’t we? And what better way to sell that than to sell the idea that having a regular job is a bad thing, that it’s mediocre. The vast majority of us work regular jobs, so the target market is enormous. And nobody wants to be mediocre, right? Thus perpetuates the idea that we are all living in the Rat Race, that we must all become entrepreneurs and achieve financial freedom lest we become another lost to time after our death, having left no mark on the world.
I call bullshit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working a normal job. In fact, it would be impossible for every single person to become an entrepreneur. Imagine a world with 7.5 billion different companies, each trying to sell to each other. Nobody could scale, because there would be nobody to hire as employees — everyone would be out working their own business. There should be no shame whatsoever in working a normal job, and while yes entrepreneurship is something that many strive for, it’s certainly not for everyone. I myself am not cut out to be an entrepreneur in the traditional sense — to leave my job and risk it all on a business — and I’ve only recently come to accept that this is not a bad thing. Does this mean I can never have my own side projects or side hustles? Certainly not. And so should be the case for the majority, I’d argue.
If the Rat Race isn’t the popular definition then, what might it be? James puts it very nicely in his video, and my definition is very similar to his. Succinctly, we both define the Rat Race as being on a financial hamster wheel — when whatever money comes in goes out just as quickly, leaving you with nothing leftover with which to save and invest. Put another way, you could say the Rat Race is living paycheque to paycheque.
The way to break out of the Rat Race isn’t only to start a successful business. The way out of the Rat Race is to take control of your finances, change your behaviours to build positive, constructive habits (such as budgeting, and not avoiding checking your finances regularly — also referred to as the ‘Ostrich Effect’), saving and investing in assets for the future. That is what builds wealth, and what will set you on the path towards financial freedom and a comfortable life.
You don’t need to be Elon Musk to do that.