If You're Thinking Of Escaping The Rat Race, Think Again

Is life away from the proverbial rat race really as idyllic as it seems?

I have a rat in my roof.

The sound of little rat-toes scuffle above my head when I’m in the kitchen; it chews joists in the ceiling and grinds its teeth against the wooden framework  -- or more likely, it probably sharpens its little rat-teeth, ready to sneak into my bedroom and gnaw at my flesh while I sleep.

We live in an older two-storey farmhouse with suspended ceilings; there is no way to remove the rat from this particular section of roof, at least, not without some skills of contortion. The only way is with bait.

But this leads me to The Incident.

Last year there were mice in this same ceiling. Worried they would multiply into plague-sized communities, we baited the roof cavity. Weeks later, I stood in the kitchen with the smell of rodent death pervading the house, when something dropped from the ceiling onto the counter. Another drop. And another. Maggots. It was raining goddamn maggots in my kitchen. I kid you not. I struggle to recall much beyond that moment except the words, people just don’t live like this, over and over again. I’m still traumatised.

As a result, the rat and I continue our impasse.

Your move, Kathy. Image: Getty.

Maybe you’re reading this while stuck in your office, your dreaded Monday- to-Friday, your hour-long commute in traffic each day, your back-to-back meetings, your deadlines, your 60-hour work weeks, and you’ve been daydreaming of life in the slow lane. Wondering what it would be like to sell up your overpriced, undersized suburban life and move to the country; maybe buy an olive farm or raise alpacas. Imagine how relaxed life would be, you think, staring at bleak concrete landscapes while the romantic image of lazy weekends on a semi-rural property drift through your mind.

But is life away from the proverbial rat race really as idyllic as it seems?

Before you trade paved streets for less-travelled dirt roads, here are seven things you might want to consider:

1. Farm Work is Hard Work

Making a living from the land isn’t easy. Whether a poultry farm, a vineyard, a sheep station or a fruit orchard, you will get blisters on your hands. It’s physically challenging, laborious, exhausting. You’ll have to toil in the elements even when the temperature is above forty degrees and your clothes melt onto your skin, or below five degrees and hail freezes the back of your neck -- there’s always work to be done, and no such thing as a day off or a climate-controlled office.

Image: Kathy Parker
2. Decrease in Salary

While you might dream of working fewer hours per week, the likelihood is not only will you work more hours, but you’ll do it for less income. While there can be exceptions, most farmers operate on an overdraft, the majority only making enough income to keep the bank off their back. You’ll also have to get used to both seasonal income and lack of income security -- farm produce is not only subject to fluctuating market value, but is also at the mercy of the weather gods. One season of insufficient rain is enough to forego an entire year’s income, which some never recover from.

3. Running Your Own Business

While self-employment can bring great freedom, most people aren’t prepared for how much time, energy and skill is required to run their own small business. You’ll need to be savvy enough to keep up with the latest tax regulations, GST changes, and complete your BAS on time each month -- which, after a hard day’s work, the last thing you’ll want to do is calculate fuel tax credits. Suddenly this work-life balance you dreamed of will begin to slip through your blistered fingers and you’ll wonder if this was actually what you signed up for.

4. Further Away from Support Networks

Leaving the city will usually mean leaving the support network of family and friends you’ve built, which can be especially challenging if you have a young family. At first there may be relief at lesser obligation to attend every social event, however, the novelty of quiet Friday nights chilling with Netflix may soon develop into loneliness and isolation as you scroll through friends’ Instagram pages and wish for that old life you no longer belong to.

5. Sacrifices

You’ll have to find a way to navigate life with no Gloria Jean’s down the road, no Uber Eats dropped to your door, only one pub in town and no weekly deliveries of fruit and veg. In fact, you’ll probably have to grow your own fruit and veg. These are sacrifices worth thinking very hard about. Trust me.

Image: Kathy Parker
6. Identity Crisis

Something not often considered when leaving well-established careers and the corporate world is the loss of identity which can accompany that. Suddenly you lack title, status, rank, admiration. There are no longer any deadlines. No pressure, no stress, no one needing you to fulfil a role only you could do, and do better than anyone. There are no more power brunches, corporate lunches, Friday afternoon cocktails. Your old workmates will call to share of their latest promotion and new office, complete with their own personal espresso machine, while you drink Blend 43 and undergo the same menial tasks as yesterday.

7. People Just Don’t Live Like This

Ever since The Incident, this has become my catch-cry over the years. On summer nights when the house teems with thousands of bugs that crawl in through tiny holes in the window screens. When having to care for fly-struck sheep without dry retching. The near-misses with deadly snakes. In seasons of drought when severe water rations mean losing count of how many days since I last showered. The times I’ve had to drive 100km to school for a sick child. When I’ve reached in my arm to collect the roadside mail and found a Huntsman instead. Every time I drive seven hours for a half-hour appointment. People just don’t live like this.

 But while life in the country may not be as romantic as the image we create, there is no denying there are many elements of the unhurried life that hold their own charm; likely to find their way into your blood until one day, unexpectedly, you find yourself wondering how you ever survived the urban rat race.

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” (Lily Tomlin)

 Still, maybe some people will always find themselves more suited to being a rat than living with one.

This post first appeared on May 10, 2018.