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Artist's depiction of the modern day rat race.

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, to no avail. 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.

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In an analogy to the modern city, many may see citizens, as rats in a single maze, expend a lot of effort running around, ultimately achieving nothing meaningful either collectively or individually. This is often used in reference to work, particularly excessive or competitive work; in general terms, if one works too much, one is "in the rat race". A key aspect of the rat race is being inflicted on the individual by uncontrollable outside forces such as researchers in the case of literal rats in a laboratory maze, or the inherent logic, pressures and incentives of contemporary businesses and society (e.g. productivity, acceleration, status). This terminology contains implications that many people see work as a seemingly endless pursuit with little reward or purpose (cyclical commute between home and work, akin to a rat running in circles or in a hamster wheel).

"Escaping the rat race" can have a number of different meanings:

  • Movement from work or geographical location into (typically) a more rural area
  • Retirement, quitting or ceasing work
  • Moving from a job of high strenuosity to one of lesser strenuosity
  • Changing to a different job altogether
  • Working from home
  • Becoming financially independent from an employer
  • Living in harmony with nature
  • Developing an inner attitude of detachment from materialistic pursuits
  • Alienation from the norms of society

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Further readingEdit

  • Leaving the Mother Ship by Randall M. Craig (Knowledge to Action Press, ISBN 0-9735404-0-0, 2004).