Five questions to help you escape the Rat Race

Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.After several months of essay writing, finally have some time to reflect. I do enjoy studying for the MBA, but sometimes it does makes me wonder why. When studying philosophy I decided to place my career on hold. Now that I am finishing this MBA, I feel a need to forge ahead in the corporate world. Why do I want to do this? I have plenty of money and a job that I can do with one hand tied behind my back.

Last year I bought an edition of a Dutch philosophy magazine which featured an article by Daan Rovers about the nature of ambition. Rovers provided a philosophical check list for for life choices, which is great for anyone asking themselves existential questions on whether you should pursue something or not.1

1. How long will this activity provide satisfaction?

They way I interpret Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought experiment of the Eternal Recurrence is that we should lead our lives as if everything we do will happen over and over again—until eternity—just like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill. Is your ambition something you could do until the end of days? With a lot of ambitions the answer is “No”. Having a lot of money, for example, becomes pointless after a certain amount. Basically, this requirement cancels out most quests for material gain and forces us to focus on internal goals. Nietzsche places an enormous burden on how we should live our lives, eternity is a bloody long time! But, this is a good way of thinking about it.

2. Is it about the destination or the journey?

This question can be related to Aristotle’s idea of Poiesis—the “bringing forth” (Speaking with Heidegger) and Praxis, the doing—as an aim in itself. The common sense philosophical consensus is that the journey is more important than the destination (praxis has priority over poiesis). With respect to doing an MBA, if you do it to be able to staple another university degree to your wall, then it is probably not the right thing for you. The idea behind giving priority to praxis, the journey, over poiesis, the destination is that this will enable personal growth. Focusing on achieving goals will only lead to needing to seek out more goals, leading to an endless spiral of seek without ever getting anywhere. If you focus on the journey you will collect experiences which will accumulate into internal growth.

3. Are my various ambitions compatible?

This is an interesting question, especially for somebody like myself who has far too many interests to fit into one brain. Charles Taylor, the pragmatic philosopher, thinks ambitions are almost always incompatible. As longs as they are internally directed and meet the above two criteria, any ambition is compatible with the next.

4. Is this the right moment for a change in direction?

This is question strikes me as the odd one out. In my own thinking “now” is the only moment right for a change in direction. Pondering on when the time for change is right will lead to never changing at all.

5. Is success actually important?

For an answer to this question, a simple gem of wisdom I read on a toilet wall in London many years ago:

Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat

  1. Daan Rovers (2008), ‘5 Persoonlijke Vragen over je Ambities’, Filosofie Magazine 7. 

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