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Quitting the Rat Race

Some readers may be familiar with the cartoon “Happiness” by Steve Cutts. If you’re not, it’s embedded below. Please take four minutes to give it a watch if you haven’t already:

Around the 30 second mark is a scene where the protaganist rat is waiting for a train to arrive at a packed platform. I recently had a sobering realisation while standing waiting at the platform for the Waterloo & City Line: this had become my life.

I grew up in one of the least densely populated parts of the United Kingdom. My childhood was a happy one: full of trees, hills, mountains, lakes, beaches, and all of the adventures to be found in such places. I now live in one of the most nature depleted parts of an already nature depleted country.

There’s so much noise in the city around me: planes approaching Heathrow, scooters whizzing around to deliver bags of fast food, cars revving while breaking the speed limit to get to the next red light, people playing music out loud while travelling and rowdy groups heading home from the pub.

When I cycle I need to cycle through kilometre after kilometre of urban jungle before I see anything resembling a field. When I run I have to stop frequently to cross dangerous roads. I’m constantly aware that the air I’m breathing is polluted and the water I drink has been recycled many times.

I’m currently working at a top tier investment bank as a software engineer. I’m an insignificant cog in a machine that skims the cream from the milk. I’m earning the most money I’ve ever made and yet I’m the least fulfilled I’ve ever been.

Almost everything around me is designed to addict me. Every storefront specifically engineered to attract me inside with gimics like flashing lights. There are countless places I can go to buy experiences - simulations supposed to release some chemicals in my brain and give me a thrill.

The truth is: nothing I’ve done or experienced in this place has given me any experience comparable to walking along the ridge between two mountains. Nothing has made me feel alive like getting in to freezing cold water despite my body screaming at me not to. Nothing has made me feel anything like that feeling when you summit a mountain after 2 hours of solid climbing in the rain, and the clouds part to reveal the most spectacular and breathtaking view you’ve ever seen.

The best part about those things is that there is no booking system. There is no door security choosing who gets in because there is no door. It’s all there, ready to be experienced, and free.

Right now in the UK and across the world, things are uncertain. Companies are laying workers off, there’s a cost of living and energy crisis. I’m excruciatingly lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to develop the skillset I’ve got. In times like these every signal is telling me to stay on the path I’m on, enjoying the comfort and safety of a high paying job.

I’m not going to listen. I’m quitting and I’m leaving this place. I’ll see you in the mountains.

Swimming in freezing water

The most beautiful place I've been

On the ridge

If this resonated with you - reach out to me on Twitter - @SeanBarryUK.

Updated on 18th January 2023: I wrote a follow up to this post: What Does Quitting the Rat Race Mean to Me?