Stuck in the Rat Race Mentality

Posted on May 29, 2013. Filed under: Career Management, Retirement, Salary | Tags: |

rat raceIn my last post, “Are You Just a Worker? Or Are You an Investor?” I talked about making a shift from a worker mindset to an investor mindset.

The idea is that we become less dependent on our earned worker-bee income and more focused on turning that earned income into passive investment income, which is where we place more of our dependence. The goal is not necessarily that we stop being worker-bees, unless we want to, but that obtaining real freedom over career management is in understanding who or what butters our bread, so to speak.

Of course, this is a concept we all nod in agreement to, but very few of us actually do anything about because, let’s face it, although it sounds nice, it also sounds “risky” and we are quick to say that we often don’t have the “luxury” of taking those kinds of risks. Or we just don’t feel “comfortable” with it.

So instead we spend our workdays (years) playing the same old game, focusing on how we don’t earn enough income or haven’t found the right place(s) to work for to help provide the security we so desperately want. The result, typically, is that we end up working harder and harder and not getting too far. Sure, our earned incomes might grow (as do our spending habits and hours on the job), but our level of security never really changes. We just add up more years of experience that we hope translates into a solid retirement package when the time comes.

Now there’s certainly nothing risky about all that, is there?

Hmm, welcome to the rat race.

A lot of us hear the word “investor” and we think of power players who have wads of cash to toss into this venture or that one, never really knowing which one will pan out. We think of Wall Street suits who always seem to be walking on the edge between millions today and broke tomorrow. Basically, we think about people we admire for their willingness to take big risks…essentially people not like us…but the idea of becoming one of them, although thrilling, really just scares us into inaction.

We might not get rich, we say, but at least we’ll be “safe.” We’ll go to school and get the good grades, so we can start a career/family, save up some money, and hope to retire with enough to relax doing something we enjoy. After all, if we work hard and do all the right things, it is a guarantee to work out that way for us because it is the safe plan, right? And money isn’t everything, right? Work-life balance…that’s more important.

In theory, it all sounds perfect. Work hard, get good grades, become a model employee…and you’ll be rewarded with the income, security, and work-life balance you’ve dreamed of…

Hmm, welcome to the rat race mentality.

The problem, of course, is that the lure of this mentality is more dream than reality. In fact, we could argue that this seemingly simple formula is one of the riskiest paths because it all relies on us expecting a reward from someone or someplace else on something we’ve “earned”…no matter what level of worker we become. In other words, we put in the time and effort and we are told we will be given the comfort and security we deserve.

We’re missing one last piece to the puzzle, though…how to protect the income we earn.

As I sit here, living in the Rochester, NY, area, I see this rat race being played out over and over again as I am wedged between two former giants of industry, Eastman Kodak and Xerox. When I was a kid, if you worked for either one of these companies, you were on the road to comfort and security. Kodak was famous for its yearly bonuses and its “guaranteed” pensions that not only covered you but your spouse too…forever! Even the initial layoffs, when it became obvious that the company was no longer what it once was and that it could not sustain its promises of comfort, came with lucrative packages, replete with multiple years of salary and of course never-ending health-care benefits. Or so it all seemed. That is, until last year or so, when the company started taking away some of these benefits, especially those for spouses, and leaving people who are now retired left in a lurch, fearing for their future and the future of their spouse who is now no longer covered.

I mean, these workers did everything they were asked, put in their years of faithful service, etc.

And what about the younger workers, like friends of mine, who both work for Xerox and have to endure biannual layoffs, never knowing whether this time it will be their turn. And these are people in management…with good grades and good credentials and good track records and 4 kids.

You know, as I think about this rat race we are in, I am reminded of that saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Yes, being an investor has risk, for sure. There’s an education that’s needed and we can/will make mistakes. But at least they are my mistakes…and at least I can take control of where I place my dependence. After all, isn’t that the true meaning of work-life balance…financial security…giving yourself an ace in the hole or, at the very least, trying to?

Investing isn’t necessarily about getting rich, if that’s what’s bothering you; it’s about building insurance. We’ve got to protect all that we’ve worked for. That’s called playing it “safe.”


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5 Responses to “Stuck in the Rat Race Mentality”

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Savings programs such as 401(k)s have been replacing defined-benefit pensions, but they have been a failure as retirement plans. Millions of Americans, including many UE members, experienced massive losses in their 401(k) accounts during the financial crisis of the past few years. The majority of workers age 55 or older have less than $50,000 saved for retirement. Chronically high unemployment and the lack of good-paying jobs makes it extremely unlikely that this will improve. That leaves Social Security, which on average provides about 40 percent of a workers’ pre-retirement income, as the sole source of income for six out of ten retirees. That number will grow if pensions and savings continue to decline.

[…] I’ve written about the rat race before and about perceptions vs. realities when it comes to our careers…all of which can […]

[…] In other words, in many ways, it is an early introduction to the rat race. […]

[…] In other words, in many ways, it is an early introduction to the rat race. […]

[…] I’ve written about the rat race before and about perceptions vs. realities when it comes to our careers…all of which can […]

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