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The Rat Race

Does this image mean anything to you? It certainly did to me - just a few years ago. It sums up beautifully how I felt. There I was, working full time for a local I.T. firm, whilst simultaneously trying to build up my own business. I was a member of the Rat Race, yet there were a few unique people around me who were wealthy enough to declare themselves free of such a title. They told me that the key to happiness was to work harder... and I believed them.

As far as I can remember, throughout my formal education I was never actually told about the Rat Race or how to break out of it. Yet, that idea was always there, heard as a continuous whisper-like drone in the background. It was just taken for granted, so much so that I never stopped to question it. From early on in life this myth is silently cultivated: children are tested at ridiculously young ages, implanting in them the false measure of failure and success.
You may be miserable today, but happiness IS just around the corner! Earn more money, that's what you need to do. After all, money = happiness! Sacrifices are neccessary - sure you may be bored stiff in your job or even hate it to death, but don't forget that for every moment you are sitting behind that desk you are earning more money. It doesn't matter if you're miserable today, because tomorrow immeasurable happiness will be on your doorstep.
Of course the key to happiness is to own lots of things. A big house with two brand new cars parked in the driveway. A digital satellite television bigger than any your friends may own (so what if it means you hardly ever talk to your family!). The latest mobile phone complete with GPS navigation system for when you can't find your way to the bathroom. A second flatpanel TV in the kitchen and of course not forgetting the multi-combi microwave oven that can do everything from cook a three course meal to iron your socks - that'll be sitting on the fitted marble worktop next to the french windows that open out onto the patioed terrace. Buy these and you'll be happy - happiness is just around the corner.
What's that you say? You've been working non-stop for thirty years and you're still not happy? Well, did you think it would take five minutes? Keep going, it's just around the corner! You hate your job? Of course you do - you didn't think it would be easy to escape the Rat Race did you? That's the price you have to pay I'm afraid... yes, at least thirty years of doing something you really have very little interest in - but you'll have a happy retirement. Oh yes, happiness is just around the corner...

And before you know it you're staring happiness in the face!

I personally lived unhappily for many years using these arguments. "Next year everything will be alright" I told myself.

Looking back, I now see that the route to happiness does not involve any of the things above. No money, no cars, no miserable jobs that bore the pants off you. No, all it involves is yourself. Participation in the Rat Race is purely optional. If you feel you are looking for happiness, it's a lot closer to hand than many people believe. Look inside yourself and ask, "What would I do today if I only had a month left to live?" Then do it.

The reason that so many people become 'trapped' in the Rat Race is, I feel, partly due to a lack of education on not only (relatively abstract) notions of freedom of choice, but also a lack of teaching of simple economics, I'm talking credit cards, mortgages and the such like.

Credit (and therefore by definition, debt) is central to the whole Rat Race issue, and nowadays people find themselves under its shadow even before they have left university. It is truly horrifying to see how eager the credit card companies are to sign up undergraduate students who, finding themselves presented with a £1000 credit limit (and 0% interest for 6 months!) go out and spend... only to find that once they are finished with uni, they have to pay these debts... with what? In order to do that, they need a decent job with career prospects.

They get that great graduate job, and start paying back their student loan and credit cards etc. However, as their salary increases over the years, so does their credit limit, and so does their spending. They simply spend whatever disposable income they have as this is what they have been conditioned to do in today's consumerist society. Got a pay rise? Oooh, now I can afford the deposit on that new car, I'll pay the remainder through that monthly payment scheme (with an interest rate that adds an extra 50% to the price of the car)...

It's downhill from here on. Along comes the mortgage.. Along come the children. Along comes the bigger house - and with it increasing expenses, met by taking out loans and remortgaging.

I have been down this road (ok, so I didn't go so far as having children!!) I ended up £18,000 in debt at the age of 25. For me, the best way out was bankruptcy. The debt was written off, and I was given a second chance.

I'll never get credit again (well, at least not for 7 years!), but that doesn't worry me in the slightest. If you haven't got it, you don't spend it. I am now free, and I will never surrender that freedom to a financial institute again. I remember those years I spent WORKING FOR MONEY, and they were truly depressing. Life should never revolve around money - Money is but a tool to make our lives easier.

For some it is a comfort to feel that freedom is unreachable, for freedom brings many challenges and much decision making. It is far simpler to hand over control of your life to a system that has been created by society for society.

Let those who wish to participate in in it do so, but never be tempted yourself to complain that you have no choice. I used to think that that was the case, but since I realised that I have the option to be free, happiness has ceased to be around the corner - it's hit me slap bang in the face and there's not a rat in sight.

For a superb visual overview of the 'The Rat Race',
click here to watch Alan Watts' "Life and Music"

Joseph Tame
My thanks to Gathered Images, the Anticonsumerism campaign and to my brother, Stephen Tame.

The key is to educate yourself.
Don't surrender yourself to a system that only exists
because you choose to support it!

Reshape your financial thinking
by reading some books by Robert Kiyosaki