Escaping the Rat Race

“If you seek tranquility, do less.”

Marcus Aurelius


Have you ever found yourself in a traffic jam on your way home from work, or in a long wait for clock off time, and you suddenly get to thinking, “Is this all there is in life?”

Maybe without even fully recognizing it, you’re worried about whether your life is long enough for you to spend 40 years doing something you don’t like — to postpone the important things until your retirement age, when you have the energy to do only so much — and that is, if you are blessed to reach that age.

Deep inside, you know that life is happening right now, and not 40 years from now. But you’re afraid to go after it. You use the safety of your job to hide yourself from that feeling. Listen, not everyone gets to quit their job. But if your calling is important enough, you would make the time and space to make it work somehow. Because if you don’t, you know that you would regret it forever.

A lot of us are caught in the rat-race paradox. We work harder and harder to make more and more money, only for us to never be satisfied. Wanting more material things is often just a distraction. Ironically, it is the lazy way out. Because we never take the time to ask ourselves about the things that would actually help us be fulfilled. So we keep grinding and grinding, buying and buying — filling the spaces of our homes, hoping that it would fill the void in our lives, even momentarily.

Life is short, dear reader. Time is running out. You don’t have forever to do what you really want to do.

In his book The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss shares a thought-provoking parable about an American businessman and a Mexican fisherman. The businessman reluctantly goes for a vacation at a small fishing village in Mexico, after a doctor advised him to. He goes for a morning walk to empty his mind, after an urgent business call left him unable to sleep well.

He meets a Mexican fisherman in a small boat, and with him were large freshly-caught yellowfin tuna. Amazed by the quality of the fish, the businessman asks him, “How long did it take to catch them?”

“Only a little while,” the fisherman responded.

“Well, why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?,” the businessman asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to my friends,” said the fisherman, as he places his tunas into a basket.

“But…What do you do with the rest of your time?,” the businessman asked.

The fisherman smiled and humbly responded, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The businessman laughed and said proudly, “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.

“Instead of selling your catch to middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

“But, how long will all this take?,” the fisherman asked.

“15-20 years,” the businessman responded. “25 tops.”

“And then what?,” the fisherman asked.

The businessman laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Ah, millions, señor? And then what?”, the fisherman asked.

“Well, then you would retire and move to a small fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

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