Are you fed up with the rat race?
The daily commute. Your gray cubicle. The office politics.
The whole soul-crushing misery.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Learn how to escape the rat race, which options you can choose from, and what results you can realistically expect.
What Is the Rat Race?
When someone talks about the “rat race,” they are referring to the pointlessness of our corporate jobs.
Like the rats in a lab, you have been trained to behave in a certain way. Our whole system of education primed us to get “a good job” and climb the corporate ladder.
Just get that raise, just you score that promotion, and you’ll be happy — or so the narrative goes.
Well, you have been lied to.
Just look at the typical day of a corporate slave:
- Wake up to an alarm, even though you are still tired
- Commute for an hour across town stuck in traffic or a crowded subway
- Spend half of your day in a gray cubicle
- Fill out Excel tables that no one needs
- Attend meetings with people who like to hear themselves talk
- Bear the constant office gossip
All of this misery for what? So you can buy a bigger flat-screen TV?
The rat race doesn’t make anyone happy but those who own the lab.
Why We Are Stuck in the Rat Race
If the rat race is such an ordeal, why do people keep racing?
The problem is that we are stuck in a vicious circle of consumption.
Once you are done working your mindnumbing 9 to 5, you want nothing more than to decompress. At least for a short while, you want to live it up a little.
So, you go buy that expensive dress or that new gaming console. You go to that fancy restaurant on the weekend. You book those four weeks at the resort in Cancun.
But now that you have spent all your money, what do you have to do? Right, you have to go back to work to make some more money.
It’s the perfect system — you need to consume so you don’t kill yourself over your idiotic job. And you need to keep working so you can consume again.
But when you live paycheck to paycheck, you never gain any wriggle room. You have no financial runway to quit your job and explore other, better options for generating income.
To make matters worse, many people don’t just blow all their money — they even spend money they don’t have.
Credit card debt, car loans, mortgages — the average American household is about $100,000 in debt.
This cements you in place. Once you are in debt, it becomes even more difficult to escape the rat race; just getting back to “neutral” might require years of effort. At this point, most people just give up.
The Price of Not Escaping the Rat Race
There is an immediate price pay as well as a long-term cost.
The immediate price is monotony. When you participate in the rat race, it’s Groundhog Day. Every day looks the same.
That would be okay if you knew your why. Athletes, businessmen, and artists also do the same thing over and over again. But they have a reason — they want to become the absolute best at what they are doing. That makes them put up with the dullness of their routine.
You have no such reason. You a cog in the wheel. You are doing nonsense work at someone else’s bidding. And that is slowly killing your spirit.
The long-term cost to pay for not escaping the rat race is regret.
We all live our lives like we have all the time in the world. We keep thinking, “Oh, one day, I will finally write that novel/start that business/travel the world.
But “one day” never comes. Because before you know it, your time is up; it turns out to be a limited resource after all.
That is the most depressing thing I have ever witnessed — the old and dying regretting their life choices.
And the number one thing they regret is putting off their dreams to participate in the rat race.
How To Get Out of the Rat Race: 15 Strategies
Learn how to escape the rat race by applying this 15-step game plan.
1. Know Your “Why”
Going against the social script is hard. Your parents and your peers will let you know in no uncertain terms how much they disapprove of you “throwing it all away.”
Then there are your own doubts. “What if this all turns out to be a pipe dream? What if I can’t pull it off?”
Thus, it’s imperative that you have a strong “Why.” The stronger your reasons for escaping the rat race, the better you will be able to deal with the naysayers and your self-doubts.
Imagine your ideal life. Don’t just be like, “I want to lay on a beach and sip cocktails all day,” (that gets old quickly). Be as specific as possible.
For example, if you always dreamed of writing a screenplay and seeing it turned into a movie, that’s a strong why.
Likewise, if you always wanted to your passion into a business and become a skateboard influencer on YouTube. That’s something concrete, yet exciting to shoot for.
Imagine your chosen “Why” in all its details. Imagine what your days will look like once you have gotten there, how inspired you will feel every day.
Then, whenever you encounter resistance, remind yourself of why you are on this path.
2. Calculate How Much Money You Will Need
Get an idea of how much money you will need to live your ideal life.
Consider all the different expenses — food, accommodation, insurance, travel expenses, hobbies, etc.
Don’t just guesstimate. Write it all down in Google Sheets.
Also, plan for a buffer. If it should cost you $3000 a month to travel the world indefinitely, shoot for making at least $3500. Unexpected expenses will come up.
It can also help to talk to people who have already done it. They will have financial insights you don’t. If you don’t have any escape artists in your social circle, go to YouTube. There are plenty of people breaking down how much money they needed to quit their 9 to 5s.
3. Get Your Financial House in Order
If you have debt, you must eliminate that first.
When you first escape the rat race, for a while, you will struggle to make ends meet. For example, if you start a yoga school, for the first 6–12 months, you won’t have a lot of clients (yet). That is normal.
But if you are also trying to take care of your minimum payments for your mortgage, your car, and your credit cards, it will break your neck. Before you know it, you will be back to working a 9 to 5.
To do this, make a list of all the debt-related payments you have to make each month. For each item, calculate how much more money you owe in total.
Now, order all of the items from lowest to highest amount owed. For all items but the top item, you will just make the minimum monthly payment. But with the top item, you put all the money that you can spare towards that.
As a result, you will pay off this first one in no time. This will boost your confidence. Do the same time with the second-lowest item on your list, and so on.
4. Cut Your Expenses
The reason that people get into debt in the first place is that most of us live beyond our means.
But even if you aren’t in debt, but just living paycheck to paycheck, you aren’t that much better off. You still have no financial runway that would allow you to quit your job and try something new.
There is no way around it — if you are serious about quitting the rat race, you must radically cut your expenses.
You don’t need a car — you could just as well take the bike or public transportation.
You don’t need a house — you could just rent a small studio apartment.
And you most definitely don’t another dress, another gaming console, or another streaming subscription.
I understand that most people reading this will balk at the suggestion that they should drastically downgrade their standard of living.
But that’s the choice you have to make. Do I want to suffer now, so I can have freedom a few years from now?
Or do I want to keep my amenities, but then be stuck in the rat race forever?
If you are serious about quitting the rat race, make a list of all your expenses in a Google Sheet.
Now look at every time on that list in turn. Could you eliminate this? Or if you cannot, how can you drastically reduce that cost? Think 50 percent or more.
Don’t be timid here. If it means selling your house and your car, so be it. To get to a different place in life, you must take serious action.
Once you are done with this process you should have at least 40–50 percent of your monthly income to save.
Set up an automation for that in your online banking. At the beginning of each month, that amount automatically goes into a separate savings account. You don’t even touch it.
After a year or two, you will now have a significant financial cushion. You now have the option to quit your 9 to 5 and try something else to generate income for a year or two.
That is a game changer.
5. Start a Side Hustle
To leave your 9 to 5, you need to start a side hustle.
For example, you might decide to build a niche site about snowboarding, that you can then monetize through ads and affiliate offers.
The challenge is that to get this project to a point where it replaces your main income, you must give it your every free minute.
You must put enough hours in to reach critical mass, while still holding a full-time job.
Let’s be clear what that entails. Every day before and/or after work, you will focus on your side hustle; at least 2–3 hours of deep work daily.
Your weekends go completely to your side hustle. No more painting the town red. No more weekend trips.
It first has to get worse before it gets better.
6. Offer a Service
The quickest way to get out of the rat race is to become very good at an in-demand skill. Examples include:
- Graphic Design
- Video Editing
- Anything online marketing (SEO, Social Media, Paid Ads, etc.)
If you offer these services to businesses and deliver good work, you’ll be out of your 9 to 5 in 3–6 months. It’s the fastest way out of the rat race there is.
The upsides of this model are life-changing.
- If you price yourself right, you will make more money than you did before.
- You will be able to set your own hours; no more alarms in the morning.
- You won’t have to commute for an hour to work and back anymore.
- If you choose to, you can travel the world while working from your laptop.
“But what if know nothing about copywriting/graphic design/programming?”
What you do is you pick a skill and make it extremely specific. Then you offer it for cheap on a platform like Fiverr or Upwork.
Let’s say you went with copywriting — but know nothing about it.
Now, instead of offering the full range of copywriting services, you only offer to write product descriptions for e-commerce stores in the beauty industry (an industry you know a little bit about).
By narrowing it down so much, you now have a much smaller skill set to learn. You can essentially read a few articles and watch a few videos, and you are ready to go.
Also, by first offering your services on low-cost platforms like Fiverr, the buyers won’t have high expectations. They are more concerned with price than quality.
Once you master product descriptions, you expand a little. Now, you will also offer a gig for headline rewriting. Then another one for email copy. And so forth.
In essence, you are creating your own paid internship. You will master your craft while already getting paid for it.
This is much more effective than hunkering down with some expensive course for six months before you take on your first project. Most people don’t go through with that anyway.
7. Turn Your Passion Into Your Business
Offering a service like copywriting will be a huge step up from working a 9 to 5. The level of freedom you gain is significant.
However, at the end of the day, it will still feel like a job.
The main reason is that you are still being told what to do.
You can’t just write about what interests you. You must write about what the client wants you to write about. And most of the time, these will be dull topics like IT or insurance.
To overcome this, you must turn your passion into your business. You must take the thing that you are most excited about in life and find ways to make a living from that.
Let’s say you are in love with the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
You could start a BJJ gym. You could become a full-time competitor. You could start a YouTube channel around BJJ and monetize through info products.
I still recommend that you start with a service business first.
Passion-based businesses are notoriously hard to get off the ground. Think 3–5 years before you start seeing money. With a service business, you will instantly have cash flow.
Also, if you are smart, you will pick a skill for your service business that will come in useful later when you start your passion business. For example, if you specialize in video editing, you can then use that for your BJJ YouTube channel.
So, to sum it up, escaping the rat is really a two-step sequence. You have to start two side hustles — the first one, a service business, to set you free; the second one, a passion business, to make you love your freedom.
8. Learn Marketing and Sales
No matter what service business or passion business you decide on, you will need to learn marketing and sales.
It’s the secret ingredient. When you know how you can make people want things, you will be able to sustain yourself under any circumstances.
Read marketing books. Listen to podcasts on the subject. Practice selling somebody by cold-calling local businesses and offering them your service.
Every minute you invest in these skills will pay off down the road.
9. Consider FIRE
Some people opt to quit the rat race by using a FIRE (=Financial Independence, Retire Early) approach.
The idea is that you keep working your regular 9 to 5 for now, but drastically cut down on your expenses. By doing so, you are able to save north of 70 percent of your income.
Keep doing this for 10+ years and investing your savings wisely, and you will be able to retire between ages 35–40. Now you can do whatever you want with your time.
There are different versions of this, like Lean FIRE where you keep living frugally throughout your retirement years and Fat Fire, where you aim to maximize earnings so you can live it up throughout retirement.
If you would like to learn more about FIRE, check out the 2010 book “Early Retirement Extreme” by Jacob Lund Fisker. It still serves as the blueprint for most FIRE disciples. The Mr. Money Mustache forum is another great starting point.
10. Move Countries
If you are pondering how to escape the rat race, another option you have is to move countries.
If you move to a low-cost country like Thailand, Egypt, or Colombia you can have a decent quality of life, while only spending around $1000 per month (or less).
Especially if you earn in dollars or euros by working online, this will make for the perfect escape. You typically will have to work as little as 5–10 hours per week.
Of course, there are drawbacks to consider.
First, leaving your familiar surroundings behind will feel scary. However, this is temporary. Spend 6 months anywhere, and the newness that used to intimidate you will be gone.
Second, you will have to leave your friends and family behind. But if you move to an expat hotspot like Vietnam or Panama, you’ll meet plenty of new people to connect with.
Third, your host culture will not feel very accessible in the beginning, due to the language barrier and the cultural differences. The way around this is to learn the language.
I know most people will let these fears get in the way of this option. But it is one of the most reliable ways to get out of the rat race. Also, it will be the adventure of a lifetime and broaden your horizon like nothing else.
11. Go Off-Grid
The most radical option for quitting the rat race is to go off-grid. When you live in a cabin somewhere in Alaska or Arizona, grow your own produce, and hunt/fish, you are as far away from the rat race as you can get.
Many people will balk at this idea for being too extreme. But in truth, this way of living is much more in sync with your DNA than what you are currently doing.
We were hunter-gatherers living off the land for millions of years. Only in the last 10,000 years, with the advent of agriculture and then the industrial revolution, did we get bogged down in the rat race.
And what has it gotten us? Widespread obesity, depression, and chronic illnesses like cancer.
You are bound to escape all of these if you return to a more natural way of living by going off-grid. It is something we should seriously consider.
12. Find Allies
Whatever option you choose to escape the rat race, it is important that you find allies.
Going against the social script will cause pushback. Your parents and your peers will all question your decision. “Don’t throw your life away,” they will say.
That might lead to you giving in.
But when you are surrounded by people who have done it, it will be easier to withstand that pressure.
The trick is to find these people.
In all likelihood, there won’t be too many people who escaped the rat race in your immediate social circle; otherwise, you wouldn’t be having these conversations.
So, it’s natural to start looking online. Here, you will find plenty of allies. A large part of the internet is about how to make money online.
It’s a good starting point. But it’s not the same as having actual friends who quit their 9 to 5. Virtual allies are not as convincing as real-life allies.
Therefore, try to find groups of people who meet up in real life. Digital nomad meetups in your town are a great starting point.
Another option is to vacation in places that attract a lot of online entrepreneurs and other escapists. Chiang Mai in Thailand. Canggu, Bali. Mexico City, Mexico. Lisbon, Portugal.
Here, you will meet people who escaped the rat race at every corner. Befriend them and stay in touch. That will make it much easier to go through with your plan.
13. Be Consistent
The reason why most people never learn how to escape the rat race is not a lack of skill. The reason is a lack of consistency.
To quit the rat race, ironically, you cannot be a quitter.
For several years, you must take massive daily action. You must sit down and optimize your website. Improve your product. Cold-call clients. Read your marketing books.
This is all before you start seeing any cash flow.
Most people won’t go through with that. They won’t have the patience for it.
But these are the same people who come to bitterly regret life choices once it’s all over.
Don’t be most people. Be consistent.
14. Don’t Sweat It
People make too big of a deal about getting out of the rat race.
They act like it can never be undone, that once you go down that road, that is it.
Don’t fall for that.
If at some point you decide that quitting the rat race wasn’t for you, you can still undo it. You return to your corporate job as if nothing happened.
“But what about my CV?”
What about it? Just lie. That is what everybody does on their CVs anyway. Tell them a story about how you took an extended sabbatical or took time off to learn a new skill. If anything, it will make you look more interesting.
The corporate world will always be there.
15. Don’t Stop There
Learning how to escape the rat race is just the beginning.
To truly become free, you must question other sacred cows as well.
Here are a few ideas:
- What’s the deal with monogamy? It’s like somebody telling you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life. It doesn’t make any sense.
- Why do we all have to get married and have kids? What’s this naive obsession with the suburban lifestyle?
- Why are we so susceptible to groupthink? For example, why do so many of us go along with religious nonsense?
- What’s this obsession with consumerism, when it is killing the planet that is providing for us?
Don’t stop at quitting your job. Question everything. Your life will be much more interesting for it.