The Rat Race

I have heard it said, and I think I have also read it somewhere, that Americans take less time off work (vacation) than our European counterparts. Said another way, it appears we have much less work-life balance than people in other countries. And while I don’t know the exact statistics to say for sure just how true that is, one thing I know for sure is everywhere I look I see people who are overworked, stressed, and either unable or unwilling to take time off.  So many people are miserable in their jobs…in their lives even.  People are frustrated, bitter, and sometimes just going through the motions of each day with out really being present.  It is quite sad.  Dare I even say quite depressing.

But all of this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. After all, we are taught to work, work, work. More work and less time off, less time for yourself and your family, is all but an expectation many places.  The popular “theory” is that you work hard now so later on you can enjoy life after you are wealthy, or your retire, or (insert whatever milestone you want here).  Working endless hours is something many people wear like a badge of honor…and anyone who doesn’t follow suit, in accordance with societal norms/expectations, is often judged…sometimes rather harshly.

And here’s what is sad about that to me:

  1. Our health & wellbeing suffers – When we live our lives in delayed gratification…in the “after I have ______” I can take time off, do something I want to do, be happy, enjoy life, etc. we set ourselves up to feel frustration, bitterness, anger, hopelessness, and a host of other possible emotions. Why? Because most of the time we either never reach that point when we said we would allow ourselves to do the things we want to do, or something else comes along and gets placed in front of those things we said we would do for ourselves and/or our families.  And if we live in frustration, bitterness, anger, and hopelessness long enough it will take it’s toll on our health and well-being.  The impact of stress, depression, and unhappiness in general on our overall health is very well documented.  We probably aren’t sleeping well (or enough) so we are tired and irritable.  Our immune system becomes run down and we become more susceptible to illness.  We feel bad in general between all the stress, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise (all things that tend to go together in this scenario).  But we are often willing to overlook or ignore these things in the pursuit of reaching that point “when we have ____”.  In our quest to meet our big career goals and eventually get to the things we want to do for ourselves, our choices and lifestyle take a huge toll on our bodies, our health, and our overall wellbeing.
  1. Our relationships suffer – If the majority of our time is focused on work, it isn’t focused on ourselves or other people. It really is that simple. Our relationships, with ourselves and with others, suffer when we are caught up in the “rat race”.  Again, we swear we will spend time on the things we want/need, we will take a vacation, we will stop and recharge, we will spend time with our family, etc. WHEN we reach that point that we have ______.  Sadly though too many times we miss the opportunity to enjoy those relationships because while we were working so hard trying to reach that point the kids grew up, spouses grew apart, and/or some of the important people in our lives passed away.  It’s a harsh reality to wake up one day, when you finally do reach that point when you have whatever you declared you needed to have before you could officially enjoy your life and some or all of what you set out to enjoy is no longer available to you.
  1. Delayed gratification often doesn’t pay off – Delaying gratification may seem honorable on some levels, but when you live in that way you are actually giving yourself permission to miss out on things now. In other words you allow yourself to stop being present. You end up going through life in a fog, going through the motions but not really being involved, invested, or present.  We become so ingrained in our daily routines, the daily grind as we often call it, that we miss so much of what is happening around us.  Indeed we believe we are doing something noble, respectable, and important when in reality we are losing touch with ourselves, our lives, as well as the people, places, and things that surround each and every day.  In short, we end up missing out on so much that I would argue the ends are not worth the means in this equation.
  1. We are becoming an angry, frustrated, stressed-out, and bitter society of people – Another problem with delayed gratification is how it can make you feel. When you work so hard for so long and have little or nothing to show for it, can’t take time off, etc. you can easily begin to feel angry, frustrated, stressed-out, and bitter. Indeed, it is a recipe for such negativity.  Not to mention that if/when we see others achieve their goals and reach their “when I have ____” moment and begin to enjoy their lives we can feel resentful.  Built up over enough time it is no wonder why people “snap”.  The negativity, the anger, the frustration, the feeling that you’re never going to reach that point when you can enjoy life…it can be an incredibly overwhelming collection of feelings that many of us are not well enough equipped to properly handle.  Again, this takes its toll not only on us (physically, mentally, and emotionally), but on all those around us as well.

Basically, we don’t get out of it what we put in, hence I would argue it is not worth it. Rather, find more of a balance between work and life NOW. Children are only young for so long.  You are only young for so long.  Our health can deteriorate.  People move on.  Places we always planned to go may not exist by the time you “get around” to going.  There is no time like the present.  Live your life present in each moment, balancing work with your personal life.  Take time for yourself, your family, your health, and your dreams.

Eckhart Tolle said, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.” Such a beautiful reminder. We get so caught up in the “Rat Race” that many of us forget to breathe, to enjoy, to be with ourselves, to be with our family and friends, to be present in each moment that goes by.  We sleep walk through much of life with the idea that “when I have __________” (fill in the blank…more money, a bigger house, a family, my retirement, that big promotion, etc.) then I can take the time to do what I want and I will be happy.  And it is such a lie, this thing we have been taught about how to live our lives.  We can be happy now, indeed we should be happy now, even before we reach the “when I have ______” stage.  We have the power to be as happy as we want to be in any given moment.  So let go of this story of success that we have been fed for as long as we can remember.  Leave the “rat race” behind.  Redefine success placing it at least as much in the now as in the future.  It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing kind of strategy.  Enjoy your life now, while still working toward your future as well.