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Examples of Leaving the Race Race Behind

Updated on October 4, 2012

Wikipedia defines "rat race" as ...

"A rat race is an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. It conjures up the image of the futile efforts of a lab rat trying to escape while running around a maze or in a wheel. In ananalogy to the modern city, many rats in a single maze expend a lot of effort running around, but ultimately achieve nothing (meaningful) either collectively or individually."

The rat race is often thought of as being associated with the corporate environment where the company tries to squeeze the most productivity out of its workers.

With a definition like that, it is no wonder that many people in our frenetic modern life begin to question our attitudes about work and begin seeking better alternatives to escape the rat race.

This pejorative term of "rat race" doesn't sound too enticing, does it?

No wonder there are some who decided to leave the corporate world and go off on their own doing what they enjoy

But can one make a living if one is to leave the rat race? How?

One way is to become self-employed and work for oneself -- such as a freelance writer, web designer, consultant, etc. Another is to switch to a less demanding job, to a job where one is following one's passion, or to a job that requires less hours or a shorter commute.

Many tried and left the rat race. Some succeed and make more than before. Some end up making less, but happier. Some failed and have to return back to the rat race. Upon searching through the internet and books, one will find many who have found ways to make a living without the rat race. However, this does not give an accurate percentage of those who succeeded versus those who failed, because it is typically those who made it that are the ones in the news and media.

All we know that it is possible -- for some. Here are a few examples that was found from Internet and books. This is by no means inclusive. The information found is dated around the 2000 - 2010 decade. So by the time you are reading this, the information may be outdated.

Corporate Lawyer Turns Lego Master

Nathan Sawaya was a corporate lawyer making a six-figure salary. However, what he really loves doing is building with Legos. After winning a Lego contest, he left his lawyer position to move to San Diego to work at Lego company as a master-builder -- at $13 a hour.

With his skill at Lego building, he then moved on to work for himself building commissioned one-of-a-kind Lego sculptures and art. In the video on the right, Nathan says ...

"The worst day being an artist is still better than the best day being a lawyer."

He has since had art and museum exhibitions including one called "The Art of the Brick". Nathan Sawaya is certainly one who have left the rat race to follow his passion and had made it.

He is recognized by Lego Corporation as a "LEGO Certified Professional".

Former Executive Rather Works At Starbucks

Like Nathan, Michael Gates Gill was also making a lot of money in the corporate world. Michael was an advertisement executive. But unlike Nathan, Michael did not leave the corporate world by choice. He was laid off. Michael's encounter with Starbucks was purely by chance. And he eventually went to work at Starbucks.

No, Michael did not go to work for Starbucks Corporate as an executive. He worked as a barista serving coffee.

But what he found out was that he enjoys his work much better at Starbucks than as an executive even though he is making less money. He tells his story in his book How Starbucks Saved My Life and at a talk at Google (video on the right).

Jonathan Coulton's Album

Vienna Teng's Album

From Writing Code to Writing Music

Jonathan Coulton used to write Visual Basic computer code.

But now he is a musician that writes songs -- including his popular "Code Monkey" song. Coulton's songs can be found here.

Vienna Teng is another example.

She graduated from prestigious Stanford University with a degree in computer science and had worked at Cisco Systems. She is now a singer/songwriter.

These are just two examples where individuals have left the corporate world behind to follow their passion.

I'm sure there are many more.

Tal Ben-Shahar Teaches Happiness

Speaking of computer scientists, Tal Ben-Shahar almost became a computer programmer. He started out at Harvard University as a computer science major. As he mentioned in his DVD Happiness 101, he wasn't happy. So he switched major. He teaches Positive Psychology at Harvard University, which at one time was Harvard's most popular course.

Ben-Shahar was featured on NPR's 2006 radio program titled "Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom" where he said ...

"It's not natural; it's not right. We weren't made to be in the rat race. Not even rats were made to be in the rat race."

Perhaps that is why he decided to step off his tenure track and teach instead. Because teaching makes him happy.

Engineers Turned Cartoonist

Scott Adams is a computer engineer that left Pacific Bell during its corporate downsizing. Now Scott Adams is most famous for his Dilbert books. The main character Dilbert is an engineer. The comics make humor out of some of the insanity that is the corporate world which many office workers can relate. You can see his comic strips online at

Jorge Cham's "Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection"

Jorge Cham is an engineering graduate student and got his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University.

He creates comics at which pokes fun of the life of the grad students and the academia environment.

He too has a collection of books with his comics. They are titled "Piled Higher and Deeper".

Blogging for a Living

Instead of drawing comics for a living, Leo Babuta blogs at, one of the top 100 blogs and was listed at the top of the list as's Best Blog of 2010.

Leo Babauta said in his book The Power of Less that ...

"Only a few years ago, I was over my head in debt, with a work schedule that rarely allowed me to see my family and had me stressed to maximum levels every day. I was overweight and unhealthy ... I was unhappy at work and going nowhere fast. My life was complicated, and I didn't have time for the things I loved."

He decided to simplify his life using the techniques taught in his book. He made healthy and positive changes to his life. He quit his day job and now works from home.

He writes ...

"I’m lucky — I’ve found my passion, and I’m living it. I can testify that it’s the most wonderful thing, to be able to make a living doing what you love."[ref]

And what is Leo's advice on how to making a living doing this? Read his post where he says ...

"This doesn’t happen overnight. You need to do something, get good at it, be passionate about it. This could take months or years, but if you’re having fun, that’s what’s most important. When you get to the point where someone would pay you for it, then you’re golden — there are many ways to make a living at that point, including doing freelance or consulting work, making information products such as ebooks, writing a blog and selling advertising. In fact, I recommend you do a blog if you’re not already — it’ll help solidify your thinking, build a reputation, find people who are interested in what you do, demonstrate your knowledge and passion.

I told you this wouldn’t be easy. It’ll require a lot of reflection and soul-searching, at first, then a lot of courage and learning and experimentation, and finally a lot of commitment.

But it’s all worth it — every second, every ounce of courage and effort. Because in the end, you’ll have something that will transform your life in so many ways, will give you that reason to jump out of bed, will make you happy no matter how much you make."

Can you make a living blogging?

Leo Babauta was able to and he has six kids.

Darren Rowse is a "six-figure blogger" at And he has pictures of his earnings to prove it. Rowse is now a professional blogger.

Kevin started the blog He is not shy about revealing how much he makes on his blog as you can see it in detail in his online income reports (complete with traffic stats). He is only twenty-something and it looks like he is already well on his way to making a living blogging.

Admittedly, these are the very few top bloggers that can make a living doing so. The vast majority probably are not able to make a living simply by blogging.

More Examples

Chris Ballard wrote the book The Butterfly Hunter: Adventures of People Who Found Their True Calling Way Off the Beaten Path which tells of true stories of individuals in unusual jobs that they enjoyed and where they had followed their passion.

There is a story of about a mushroom picker and a butterfly hunter (of which the title of the book is based)

As an example, picking mushrooms is hard work and long hours and is not exactly a high-profit profession. However, he is his own boss. And the book says in the introduction ...

"Perceived autonomy trumps actual autonomy. The ideal of being "one's own boss" isn't really so much about freedom; it's about one's perception of freedom, an important distinction. In other words, working fourteen hours at something one loves is more liberating than spending nine hours at something one doesn't, even if the first situation actually provides less tangible freedom."


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Wonderful examples of leaving the rat race. I did it two years ago and I have never been happier. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

      Great message!