I’m Done With The Rat Race



A few months ago I felt stuck, and I started to have a pretty pessimistic view on the trajectory of my life. It seemed like everyone around me was adhering to the societal standards of what success looked like, regardless if it actually made them happy or not — my husband and I included. For months, I obsessively scanned the internet to find inspiration on how people were living their lives outside of the 9-5 in hopes that it would inspire me to live a life without so much financial and social pressure. I would often turn my laptop towards my husband to show him images and videos of people living in tiny homes, or in vans with their toddler, or of people who moved to the desert. “Maybe we can do that,” I’d say to him, in hopes that these ideas might inspire him to quit the tech job he had hated for over 5 years. I wanted us to live a happier, less stressful kind of life. A life outside of the rat race.

The rat race is a pressure cooker, and I for one, as well as my husband, have been feeling the pot boil over for quite some time.

Alexandra D’amour

When I looked up the definition of “rat race,” it felt as though it perfectly described the internal feelings I was having about my external life. The definition helped make sense of the collective pressures many of us face, the frustrating struggle. The rat race is “a way of life in modern society, in which people compete with each other for power and money.” It’s a social and economic ladder, one which sees no end. The rat race is a pressure cooker, and I for one, as well as my husband, have been feeling the pot boil over for quite some time. Though our household income has increased yearly, it started to feel increasingly clear that when stuck in the rat race, more was always required. More money, more success, more status. All of this would somehow equate to more happiness.

But, it didn’t.

About 6 months ago, I was sitting across from my husband in our living room, having a lengthy conversation about his well-paying, but unfulfilling, job. He looked defeated, tired, and overwhelmed, but most of all, angry. We were living in San Francisco, a city where making 6 figures is considered “low-income,” where we had moved from Los Angeles for a promotion and promised lucrative territory. Our goal was to save his commissions and quit at the end of the year. He had been wanting to get out of sales for years and this promotion, and the potential commissions as a result, would be his ticket out. But unfortunately, just like life, sales are unpredictable. Midway through the year, he realized the sales opportunities he expected just weren’t there.

His voice became louder as he expressed his frustration about the overwhelming pressure to financially support our family, relating to the 65% of millennial men that feel that same pressure. I, on the other hand, defensively described my desire to live outside the rat race, which only angered him more. “That’s just a cop out”, he replied.

“Why are we paying $4,000 a month to rent a one bedroom apartment in a city we don’t even like? Why are you busting your ass to make money when you’re not even able to enjoy your life?” I asked him. “Why are we struggling to live a life we don’t even want?!”

When you’ve been living your life stuck in an endless maze, continuously trying to make the “right” decisions to find a way out — hoping to eventually be relieved from all the pressure to succeed — it’s hard to imagine what your life could be like.

Alexandra D’amour

It seemed the more money we made, the more we moved away from what we really wanted. In the 6 years we’ve been married, we’ve had lengthy conversations about our future, envisioning a small, quiet piece of land to raise our kids and animals. “Maybe we can get chickens too,” I’d fantasize. Even though my husband was able to more than double his income, the increase in our cost of living year after year ensured that we had little to show for it. As the housing prices increase in San Francisco, owning a house, with a yard, might never even be a possibility for us.

As the dust of our heated words settled, my husband surrendered to my questions and was willing to hear me out. “So, what do you suggest we do?” he asked while letting out a deep sigh.

When you’ve been living your life stuck in an endless maze, continuously trying to make the “right” decisions to find a way out — hoping to eventually be relieved from all the pressure to succeed — it’s hard to imagine what your life could be like. Every time we talked about “getting out,” it felt so far away. We would need lottery-type-of-money to make those kinds of decisions.

As my husband looked at me, completely open to any idea outside of our rat race, I forced myself to find an answer. “The problem starts with our cost of living,” I told him assuredly. I looked up rent in places like Joshua Tree, Ojai, and Tucson. I showed him a super cute 3 bedroom home with a big backyard that cost $1,300 a month. His eyes widened. The freeing feeling his potential commissions were supposed to make him feel was now being replaced by endless open Zillow tabs. “Let do this babe,” he confidently said while scrolling through rental listings. “I want out.”

Millennials, like my husband and myself, face far more pressure than ever to succeed. We need to have an education, career, money, and home ownership by the time we’re 30, while also succeeding in our relationships, mental health, and potentially parenthood. Many blame social media for the alarming rise in anxiety and depression within our generation, with a study finding that ⅓ of millennials suffer compared to 20% of older generations.*** Thomas Cunnan, a social psychologist and expert in perfectionism, blames the impossible standards set on young adults. He critiques the ever-growing number of criteria that forces millennials to be focused more on perfectionism than happiness. “Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth,” he explains.

It feels as though we are all anxiously climbing the ladder of social approval and seeking the validation of worth by society’s measures of what being successful looks like.

Alexandra D’amour

As we’ve been trying to navigate our way out of the rat race and figure out how we could afford a drastic lifestyle change that would include my husband leaving his job, I’ve realized that the race goes far beyond how much we pay for the roof over our heads, or whether or not we’re fulfilled by how we pay for it. The social rat race, the one amongst your friends and peers, is the one I am particularly tired of. Author Arthur Dobrin says, “Group pressure is enormously effective in producing social conformity, and nowhere is the pressure to conform stronger than in small, close-knit groups.” I couldn’t agree more.

Interacting with our friend group is where I have felt the competition of the rat race more than anywhere else, like we are all stuck on a continuous, singular loop rushing past each other only to end up at the same place. Who purchased their home first, who got pregnant first, who had a great financial year. It feels as though we are all anxiously climbing the ladder of social approval and seeking the validation of worth by society’s measures of what being successful looks like. At 30, we’re somehow supposed to have it all, and the older I get, the less free I feel to make decisions for myself. I’m so busy living a life that’s trying to keep up with everyone around me rather than keeping up with my own desires and aspirations.

Telling our friends about our desire to move outside of the Bay Area, quit our jobs, and live a completely different kind of life opened our eyes to how much the rat race is indoctrinated into our belief system as the only valid way of living. Our exciting news was met with much resistance and concern:

Everything you’re complaining about is a part of being an adult. If you want to get ahead in life, this is the sacrifice. So, you’re holding off on trying to get pregnant, right? Your cost of living might be lower if you live somewhere else, but you won’t make any money. When you decide to come back, you’ll have to start at the bottom of the pole again.

Our friends’ statements insisted that anything outside of the norm would be more of a struggle. What once would have discouraged us previously, now only strengthened our desire to get out. “Sounds like you’re going through a quarter-life crisis,” our friend said to my husband, to which my husband responded, “No, I’ve spent a quarter of my life in crisis.”

I am happy to report that my husband quit his job, and I’m currently writing this from Mexico. “Why Mexico!?” every one of our worried friends asked. I repeatedly shared that we needed a break before we made any drastic decisions about what our next permanent move might be. We needed to get out to enjoy and experience what life has to offer us on our own terms. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to pack up your life, something my husband and I are deeply aware of. We feel incredibly fortunate to have the luxury of making the decision we just made.

I don’t know what life outside of the rat race will look like, but I know we will figure it out. Whether it’s moving to a different state, getting a part-time job to afford our creative pursuits, or just traveling for the next little while. In the meantime, I will continue to be inspired by people who have decided to live a completely different kind of life. When I felt stuck in the rat race previously, I often felt like I didn’t have a choice, but there is always a choice to redefine what success looks like. My husband and I had been so deeply buried in the social monetary pressures over the last 5 years that we don’t fully know what makes us happy yet. So that is our only goal right now: figuring out what works for us. We are currently racing towards nothing in particular, and we’re feeling incredibly inspired by the endless possibilities out there, regardless of what society or our friends would have us think.




  1. This line (among many others) struck me: “Telling our friends about our desire to move outside of the Bay Area, quit our jobs, and live a completely different kind of life opened our eyes to how much the rat race is indoctrinated into our belief system as the only valid way of living.”

    We have been sold a bill of goods! So many generations before us believed this is how we live. This is what it means to be an adult. But there are so many different ways to live that include being happy as well as successful. I’m glad you two are discovering what works best for you.

  2. Yes to this entire fucking article.

    My husband and I have been having these exact conversations….also in San Francisco. This resonates with me so much. So thank you.

  3. Thank you. I needed to hear all this and know I am not alone in my feelings of exhaustion living here. I am late in the game in replying but like you have been living (and working) in the Bay Area for many years. As wages increase so do expenses at a rate we cannot keep up with anymore. We are currently renting and using this time to figure out whether we really would like to stay put or move. I am done with this rat race, but we have family here and kids to put into consideration. This has made decision making a lot harder. The longer we think the more my body and tells me its time to get out. We can learn to live (and be happy) with less. I hope you can update us with whatever decision you have made. Best of luck!

  4. Im leaving my job in March to pursue work as a spiritual nurse but funny thing is there is no school or actual training for it. Sooo with my handy dandy iPad and iPhone Im going to research. Im going to make my own curriculum, get books, talk to people, get different trainings, reiki, energy healing , meditations. I don’t how I’m going to do it either. Lol and right now I’m single. But I have hope. I feel freer. I cut my hours back at work. I have a mountain of student loans and so yeah. I to am figuring it out.
    I wish you the best

  5. The entire human race is living life incorrectly. Literally everything outside of love and being together is unnecessary. Everything. Even disease. The movement of the world under COVID-19 has opened my eyes. Viruses aren’t real. They’re an outside source of stress that can infiltrate the human cell. From there it can lead to death by triggering the human immune response. This is truth, and that is that disease is simply not necessary. Nor is anything else…we don’t need to work for money, we don’t even need to work! We find ourselves doing so now because of everything else we’ve “created” before hand. We don’t need the money to live, don’t need it to pay for bills and housing, and we don’t need it to be happy. Literally everything we do withe the money is extra, and everything we can buy from it is only to keep us occupied. But why? Why are we occupying our time with anything other than living and loving?

  6. Even as an eastern european eith trememndous privilige which im grateful for, infact to greatful for… i’ve spent more than half of my 20 yrs trying to assimilate into the walls and be greatful for everything my parents did for me to the point that i agreed with every decision they made for me and felt selfish for having a roof over my head, food on our table etc. I had opportunities others only dream of, that i couldn’t enjoy do to my mental ailments and the pressure. My dad and life always got in the way of me getting some real mental health assesment. For 5 years menatl health has always been on the back-burner. Now that i got into a very prestigious uni here with a scholarship, i feel my mental health deteriorating faster than ever. Something about how society works became very wrong. Im only twenty and long ago as a kid i didnt think i’d make it to 18. I had and have no ‘realistic’ future plans. Im frankly just terrified, tired, and a pile of existential dread and mental illness. The majority of this is definetely not on social media. 2020-12-1

    1. Hello my friend, I am not going to write the usual trite rubbish people write, hang in there, go well, be strong etc etc, you have written very well, I find writing can be a big release for me and I hope it is for you, if you want to write to me please do.

  7. Yeah so how DO you afford things? My partner and I need to work 32-40 hours a week to afford a 600$ a month two bedroom trailer. My cars getting old. Her truck older. It seems like i will have to go to college. I’m taking cmt classes. I’m a cna at the moment. Ive been considering getting my LPN. But to be honest I really hate nursing homes. The whole business is just that, a business. And its sick and horrible. Makes me feel sick and horrible. But on the other hand I think if i had my LPN it woule be easy to back up and go and try stuff out. Thry make 23 bucks an hour and theyre always in demand. Seems reasonable right? Or maybe id just end up hating myself for working my whole dick off for a job that i wasnt sure about in the first place. For a while I worked weekend doubles. Where I worked 32 hours every weekend and had the weekdays off. But I was so tired that I didnt want to do anything. And it always seems that “going somewhere” or “doing something” always requires money and i really dont like that. For a few months actually i kindof just let myself waste and played video games inside, basically nocturnal. I want to try to work a day shift hour job instead. Maybe I’ll feel less shitty about spending 2/3 of my time at a job I dont like if I get off at 2 pm and have an afternoon. Cant tell you the last time 6 pm felt like 6pm. If you know you know. I feel like were almost forced to contend with this rat race. I’m honestly terrified of trying to live more freely. I’m so preoccupied with keeping my rent paid and lights on that like basically all that amounts to is a place to sleep and cook dinner and watch television. It all seems so worthless. I mean the value of life I guess eventually ends up being in your relationships (with yourself and others) but what are we really doing? I mean working my whole dick off so I can rewatch game of thrones? Is that really what i am now? Is that what I worked so hard for? Any forward thinking advice is welcome. I feel very much stuck. Very much like i have no choice but to waste myself. It’s very sad.

  8. In the late 1960’s world renowned oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau undertook a groundbreaking study of the mating habits of the Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola). Cousteau found that that mating ritual involved the fish dilating its anus to attract a mate. When Cousteau accidently inserted his finger into the fish’s anus, the fish rocked back and forth in orgasmic pleasure. As Cousteau summarized in French “ Quand mon doigt est entré dans l’anus du poisson, j’ai senti un avec le poisson et je suis sûr que le poisson a senti un avec moi ” – When my finger entered the anus of the fish I felt one with the fish and I’m sure the fish felt one with me. The Ocean Sunfish is the only known fish to display this mating behavior. In his later years Cousteau would often shove his finger up his own anus and fondly remember his encounter with the Ocean Sunfish

  9. One thing we must do is understand that we are all different and what seems right, sensible, practical and logical to one person will seem like complete lunacy to another. I am a 55 year old white NZ male and I have always wanted to break away from the rat race, I am talking back to when I was a teenager, disappointment with mankinds treatment of the environment is probably my biggest upset, I have just this last few days decided enough is enough and I am not going back to my job, its an okay job but the best part of my day was my 35 minute bike ride to it and same again in the afternoon, exercise is a very big mental relief valve for me. I live in NZ which is a lovely country but my heart is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I have a number of nice sailing boats on my watchlist on Trademe which would be more than capable of taking myself and my wife far from the madding crowd, I am also aware that thinking by changing your physical location on the face of the earth you are going to be happier is not correct, your state of fulfilment and happiness must start at home, meditation, new pastimes, for me giving up alcohol has and is a huge component of me feeling a lot better, I hope some of this makes sense.

  10. This isn’t really a Millennial thing. This is something Gen-X has grappled with for 30 years in the shadow of the Boomers and the emphasis they place on work as identity. Our mantra is “work to live, not live to work,” and for that they called us unambitious “slackers.” I am in my early 50s and still knocking heads with a Boomer boss who wears her 60-hour weeks like a badge of both martyrdom and honor. She pays lip service to work-life balance, but her actions, such as questioning leave requests and giving people a hard time about taking time off over the holidays, reveal her resentment of anyone who can draw a boundary and have a life outside their work.

    Most Millennials were raised by Boomers, so maybe this seems new to you because you learned the rules from the people who wrote them. They are the ones who pushed it front and center in the 1980s and Gordon Gekko “greed is good” culture. Of course this is a very generalized comment. I’ve had Boomer bosses who were hippies in the 1960s and early 1970s who are the exact opposite and never ran the race. I also know a few Gen-Xers who bought into the race. But by and large, being skeptical and critical of the rat-race is a very 1990s, Reality Bites kind of thing. Gotta say, it made me smile to read this post. It have me hope for your generation.