It's difficult to pin down the moment you joined the rat race. It just sort of...happened.

When you were in college, you probably didn't have much money. You split the rent for your crappy apartment with roommates, you didn't have a fancy car, and you sustained yourself on ramen noodles. Whatever money you had left bought you some beer or a dinner out with friends. Yet, most people look back on those days fondly.

Then you entered the workforce and started making real money. Suddenly, you needed a nice car to take clients around town and a big house to demonstrate your newfound success. But these things you accumulated didn't do anything to improve your quality of life. In fact, the more money you made, the more stuff you needed. When you get a promotion, you still can't get ahead because your burn rate keeps pace with what you make.

The problem with the rat race is that there's no finish line. There's nobody waiting at the end to give you a medal and dump a cooler of Gatorade over your head. The wheel just keeps spinning. And the longer you're caught in this cycle of consumption, the more natural it becomes. You forget that it wasn't always like that.

How to Get off the Wheel

The first step toward escaping the rat race is being able to see the rat race. When you're just trying to keep up, it's easy to saddle yourself with a hefty mortgage and an expensive car payment and then convince yourself that's what will make you happy, but it's important to realize that your stressors are entirely self-inflicted.

The good news is that you got yourself onto the wheel, which means you can get yourself off of it.

  1. Change your workweek.

    The 9-to-5 grind is gospel in the rat race, but it's not the best way to put money in the bank. Instead of focusing on putting out fires and generating immediate results, consider dedicating at least 15 percent of your time to activities that build on your quality of life and 40 percent of your time to developing new platforms (instead of maintaining existing ones).

    What if you spent Monday, Wednesday, and Friday knocking out your daily priorities and dedicated Tuesday and Thursday to working on a new long-term project? What if you took some days off? It's crazy, I know, but shaking up your routine can help you get off the wheel.

  1. Pay yourself.

    If you talk to a rat who has been running the wheel for years, he'll tell you that he earns 10 times what he used to, but his quality of life has not improved. The more he works, the more he spends, and the faster his income disappears. If you want to escape this vicious cycle, you must pay yourself first and sock some money away to accumulate for the future.

  2. Only buy things that add to your quality of life.

    Our culture of consumption is often what pulls us into the rat race in the first place. It's drilled into us from a very young age that a big house with a yard and a white picket fence is central to the American Dream, but did you really buy a house, or did you just get yourself a job as a handyman/gardener?

    At some point, the stuff you own starts to own you. Whatever you spend your money on, make sure it adds to your quality of life.

  3. Lead by example.

    When you plant your feet on firm ground for the first time in years, you might look around and notice you don't have much company. The rat race may have even consumed your business.

    To help your employees escape the rat race, you first need to demonstrate proof of the concept in your own life. Then try giving them some time during the week to work on their passion projects, and encourage them to invest in themselves. After all, you don't want a bunch of people running on the wheel for you when you worked so hard to get off of it yourself!

Once you escape the rat race, you'll be able to move freely and appreciate the world around you without getting dizzy. Remember: Life is a journey, not the destination, and you don't want to spend that journey on a treadmill going nowhere.

Published on: Sep 26, 2014