The Hamster Wheel is a Choice

Working in a hamster wheel is a choice. The first step to a different work life is an awareness of the choices you make.

We work to throw away

Yesterday was hard rubbish collection in my suburb. I saw a truck taking away discarded televisions and computer screens. It is a striking thing to see two men loading screen after screen in to a truck be recycled or thrown away.

A screen was once an investment of hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Now like many of the products of our consumer society it is discarded regularly.  Somebody works hard to make the money for all this rubbish. I hope they enjoyed the work:

How many hours of work in the hamster wheel are stacked on the back of this truck?

Less can be more

More than a dozen years ago I read a small book by Elaine St James called “Simplify Your Life”. The central thesis of the book is that much of the complexity of our life is because we need to buy and manage things we barely need. The cost of supporting these things means we need to work harder than we want and give up the things we would rather do.

The book didn’t cause immediate change. I still can’t say I have achieved a simple life. However, the idea from the book has stayed with me. Over time I started to make small different choices on what mattered most:

  • I spent less time rushing to have the latest gadget only to then discard it for the next one
  • I cut back my discretionary purchases to the areas that gave me greatest joy
  • I started letting go of and not buying the stuff I never used or was keeping just in case.
  • I started to make more choices to do the things I wanted rather than the things everyone else did. 
  • I kept a notebook to write down the things that I saw that I wanted to buy.  I bought surprisingly few of them once I had achieved the endorphin rush of writing it down.
  • In short, I became more aware of the difference between need, desire and enjoyment.

Work will always be hard

Work will always be hard, because it involves choices to sacrifice time spent on other things like family, friends and passion. We begrudge these choices at times, especially when the sacrifice is made only for money.

Small choices over time can help at the margins to reduce the pressure to make big sacrifices. They can help declutter your decisions and get you closer to what matters. Choice doesn’t get easier, but it can be clearer.

Most importantly of all, being more aware of your choices is at the heart of finding ways to work better, to spend time more valuably and to increase the time that you spend working on purpose.

Choices are hard. Make yours.

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