The Rat Race
According to Wikipedia, the source of all truth:
A rat race is an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. The phrase equates humans to rats attempting to earn a reward such as cheese, in vain. It may also refer to a competitive struggle to get ahead financially or routinely.
The term is commonly associated with an exhausting, repetitive lifestyle that leaves no time for relaxation or enjoyment.
I always thought of the rat race as being the pursuit of money. Work hard and earn a lot of it so that you can do whatever you want later. As a bratty Gen Y Millenial, I thought I was above those old-school life goals, and that I was not taking part of any stupid rat race. I now realize I've been part of an other kind of rat race myself.
Following your dreams and passions, betting on yourself and your projects to reach fulfilment sounds very appealing, doesn't it? With enough work, you can be anything you want. And it's not about money, no no no, that's gross. It's about fulfilment! I want to be a rockstar and move people with my music, I want to have a successful and useful self-made business, I want to change the world! Hell yeah, sign me up! There's a little problem though... Hundreds of millions of other people also want that.
So you want to make it big?
To be fair, if you reaaaaaally want to be a rockstar, a big YouTuber, have your own successful restaurant or online business, make an impact on the world, you probably can. If you are willing to put in the massive amount of work to "make it" it your field, it is doable. But let's keep a few things in mind:
- You have to absolutely excel at what you're doing. There is no room for average quality, particularly if your project involves social platforms, or competition in general. If your project is reviewed, ranked, or part of some recommendation algorithm, that's the case.
- You will have to invest a lot in promotion, with your time or with your money. Even if your content or product is great, that's only half of the work. You have to fight for people's attention, and that's usually an unpleasant experience.
- This journey can make you unhappy. Seeing others succeed while you struggle getting 10 likes on your post, 10 visitors on your website, or 10 customers per day in your restaurant, can deeply affect your daily happiness. Even occasional successes can cause unhappiness if you can't get them consistently, as you will not only compare yourself to others, but to yourself as well.
- If you're in it for the money, that's even more stressful. If paying your rent depends on the success of your project, it will make you work harder and theoretically increase your chance of success. That might work for some, but you're already inflicting a lot of pressure on yourself, and risk burning out more.
- The pursuit of success might denature your craft. If some type of content leads to success more than the type you originally intended to make, you will probably alter your craft. That's why most songs are about 3:30 long for radio, and why hooks are now in intros to avoid listeners skipping in the first seconds when streaming. If you want to open a salad restaurant but people want burgers in your neighborhood, you might have to give in with your salads.
- This might not make you happy even if you make it. Congrats, you spent 5 years of your life building that project, and you actually made it big, or reached your goal. For a lot of people, the destination is less exciting than the journey. You may also have projected yourself living the ideal life, when in reality, it may not be that great. Rockstars still have to wake up in the morning and work hard. They still have their own struggles and annoying problems to deal with.
If you really think this whole experience is worth it, then by all means, go for it. Thank you for your sacrifice to create excellent content or products on a large scale. But personally, I've switched to a different mindset.
Making it... small
If what we're after is fulfilment, then try to find something you can do in your life that is fulfilling without such a high cost.
- First, be happy even if you don't make it at all. Needing something or someone to be happy is a recipe for disaster. Learn to be content with what you have, now. Be at peace with your life being what it is, and grateful to have what you have. If you have that baseline of contentment, those projects are just a bonus.
- Find a project that is fulfilling on a small scale. Not everything you undertake has to change the whole freaking world. How about doing something impactful for 50 people? 5 people? Even 1 person? It doesn't even need to be about people. Just make sure it is realistically attainable.
- Would you do it even if you were the only person on Earth? That's a great question to ask yourself to see if you love the activity in itself. Someone who writes music for the beauty of music will have a different answer to that question than someone who does because they actually mostly want fame. Now there is nothing wrong with projects that involve other people, but it can help clean up the vanity out of the equation.
- You can still make it big. If you excel at what you're doing on a small scale, you may still make it big as a side-effect of your small success. The key is to not care if it doesn't. The most important thing is to consistently feel content with what you're doing. But it doesn't cost much to do some minimal promotion to get the word out, as long as it doesn't affect your craft.
To give you an example, I am writing this article for myself. I would still have written it if no one else but me reads it. I am not trying to make it big in the field of personal development. I will share it here and there because it just takes a few minutes, but I don't care if it has a small impact. It's fine. I'm at peace with not changing the world, and I think more people should be. Thank you for reading.