Wednesday, November 4, 2009

#11 King Rat

August 13th 2009

King Rat

Anyone who has travelled to very poor countries will have come across an interesting phenomenon. Now I am not underplaying that there are numerous impoverished countries and places where the people are dying of malnourishment and disease. But, there are also incredibly poor countries where the majority of the population live well below the poverty line, yet still have food and shelter. These countries, which include places like India and Vietnam, have provided an important lesson to how I view the rat race that I find myself in. The people there are very family orientated, many of them find their happiness in the simple pleasures, they often go out of their way to help you out expecting little or nothing in return other than a smile, and understand that as long as they have their health and family, there is lots to be happy about.

To most of the Western thinking world, that truly is a phenomenon. For those of us involved in the rat race, it’s difficult to imagine being happy with only our health and family. Our society just doesn’t place that much importance on those two things. Now, I know some of you are shaking your head right now, but when viewing us as a whole it’s pretty true. Our obesity rates are the highest in the world, we smoke, drink, do drugs and most of us have a number of stress related illnesses. If we are working out and taking care of our physical health, it’s probably due more to vanity than anything else. On the family side of things, our divorce rates speak for themselves. Infidelity is common place, children are increasingly coming from broken homes, nursing homes are full of our parents and grandparents and most of us would rather spend time at work making money, than with our families. It sounds dark, but most of us are well and truly seasoned entrants in the rat race.

And what are we getting out of it? Money, houses, boats, planes, holidays to exotic places, clothes, jewellery, and the list goes on. We get possessions. We get experiences. Many of these experiences may even shape us as people. But the rat race doesn’t buy us more time with our families, friends or the people we love. We all know it doesn’t buy happiness (although it does buy comfort). It can’t buy back the years of abuse many of us have put our bodies through in our 20’s. And it doesn’t buy love. So all in all, we are trading on average 10 hours per day, 5 days per week, for things and status amongst those who value things. Shallow isn’t it? It is drilled into us from a young age, that success means money, a nice house, holidays, providing for your family, and as many luxuries that you can afford. I can’t remember being taught growing up that success meant having a lasting marriage, spending time with my kids, spending time with my parents as they grow old, spending time on myself and my health, and being happy. Those values seeped into me, but they were not synonymous with success. Now I feel quite lucky as I come from a very strong and close family where my parents have always stressed that my happiness must come before anything else. Thus, I have made decisions in my professional life which has seen me turn down opportunities that would’ve undoubtedly meant more money to me because I was unhappy doing them. Would I have done that had I not valued my happiness? Or would I have done that if I didn’t have the choice? Ie, I didn’t have supportive parents who have given me a safety net to pursue a professional career which has the potential to bring me not only success but happiness as well? I think we all know the answer to that.

I am not saying that the rat race is wrong. I am not even judging it because it’s mainly those who buck the rat race trend that tend to get judged. We call them hippies, commies, trust fund babies, soft cocks, or just simply losers. But I do think that it’s important to realise that I am not in the rat race to win. There is no one winner to the rat race. There are too many of us. King Rat is nothing more than a fantastic James Clavell novel. So while I am turning on my wheel, always trying to run faster with the promise of upgrading to a bigger and shinier wheel, I am just grateful that I know. I know that you can’t take it with you, I know that I will have to find part of my happiness elsewhere, I know that given the choice I would take my family and love and my dog, and I know that all this is only a part of me. There is little point in having cool things just to play with them on my own. I am still young enough to dream that I can win the rat race, have all the cool toys, an amazing family and will never get seriously ill. Spoken like a true 29 year old.

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