How do you know when it's time for a change and that you're prepared to leave your comfort zone for a new outlook on life? I ask myself these four questions before I took the leap.
Rat race, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary: “A way of life in which people are caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth or power; an exhausting, usually competitive routine.”
Most of people live this way. You may very well live according to this gruelling pace of life. The two-plus-hour-long commute, long hours at the office, having to always be “on” even after-hours and on weekends, time away from your family, relentless competition from inside and outside your firm, etc.
I work with many folks who hit a similar point I did when the thought, “What’s next? Because this can’t be all there is,” goes from a barely audible whisper in the back of one’s mind to an unmistakable battle cry.
So, what happens if you wake up one morning and don’t want to live this way anymore? When do you know you’re ready to get out? Here are four signs I'm ready to make a life change. But before that, I'll share you the parable of the Mexican Fisherman which conveyed me wonderfully
An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican fisherman how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican fisherman replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied that he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, 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 investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA and I can help you. You could spend more time fishing and buy a bigger boat with the proceeds. You could buy several boats and eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing, and distribution.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican fisherman.
The American 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 could make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal 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.”
When You Know You’re Ready for a Life Change
From my experience, mid-career tends to be the time when many people re-evaluate what’s truly important to them. You’ve been at it long enough to know the vision of what you hoped to achieve through all your sacrifice was perhaps not what you thought.
I realised that my work didn't leave any room to balance my career with my personal life. Sure, I was making a solid income and progressing up the corporate ladder — a great opportunity, working side-by-side with some very smart people — but it was cannibalised by my cost of living and all the time it took me away from my husband and son. What worked for me when I was in my 20s simply didn’t work anymore once I started a family and assumed the roles of wife and mom.
As I spent two-plus hours a day commuting to and from the city, that whisper, “What’s next? Because this can’t be all there is,” got louder and louder. I evaluated my situation against the following four points. To help determine just how ready you are to make a change, ask yourself the following four questions.
1. Do you like the way your future looks?
Take a step out of the line. Look a few paces ahead at the man or woman you report to today. Do you want to be him or her five to 10 years from now? If the answer is “no,” then you probably want to consider the path you’re on and the fastest way to get off of it.
2. Are you OK with an uncharted path or taking step back?
Everyone’s path to a new way of living is different. Can you leave your ego at the door if necessary? Making a radical life change often means that you may have to take a few steps backwards in order to make leaps forward. Maybe you’ll make less money or have to take a less prestigious position with a less well-known company. If you are OK with that, you’re more than OK with taking on the risks associated with big life changes. When you don’t derive your full value from your pay-check, it’s more than likely that you’ll make choices that support your overall quality of life.
3. Can you handle the worst-case scenario?
What is your worst-case financial scenario? For me, the worst possible thing that could happen is that I couldn’t provide the basic needs for my family, i.e. food and shelter. Taking a step back and looking at this rationally, I had enough financial runway to last two years without making any profit on my new business. Even if I came close to that two years, I would get another job (any job) and keep some income flowing into my household to provide for my family. Are you comfortable with what you would have to do if the worst-case scenario of your life change came to fruition? If so, you’re ready.
4. Is money your main motivation in life?
Some people turn their passion into their career. Others pursue a certain lifestyle and then figure out a career that can help support the way they want to live. Whichever comes first for you, chances are that money isn’t your highest priority. If it was, you would likely stick to the rat race you’re on. Instead, you are looking for something more than what money alone can buy.
Whatever your reasons are for wanting to leave the rat race and embrace a change in your life, don’t be too afraid to try. Leaving what you know for the unknown can be scary. I know it was for me. But I also know that it wound up being the best decision for me and my family, and I couldn’t be happier that I took a chance on myself.
Escape the rat race. Life is actually pretty good. What version of your life could you be living if you weren’t caught up in the rat race? Maybe now is your time to find out.