How to Get Ahead in Life And Exit The “Rat Race”

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

— Winston Churchill

Building a Better Life

Getting ahead in life may mean many different things to many different people. However, thanks to the global personification from mainstream media, the general consensus of getting ahead in life relates to monetary gains. We see the portrayal of the “American Dream” everywhere we turn – from radio, to television, and, of course, on the Web. There are constant accounts of immigrants crafting a better life for themselves and achieving financial freedom.

But this dream doesn’t just apply to America; this is a global dream. It’s the dream to have a better life, not only financially speaking, but overall in every aspect. And, the reasoning is that, once you have money, everything else will fall into place. Who could possibly have problems when they have an exorbitant amount of cash, right? Who could think that life was anything but a beautiful gift when they could wake up and spend what they wanted, where they wanted, and with whom they wanted, right?

Well, not necessarily. 

But I’m not here to bash “the dream.” What I want to do is put some perspective to the dream. Because, although getting ahead in life, monetarily speaking, is great, it’s not everything. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely no issues with having a lot of money, but without first possessing some financial traits and following a basic set of rules that are fundamentally necessary at the foundational core of any successful person, more money just means more problems.

Happily Succeeding

Money might make the world go round, but it certainly doesn’t equal happiness. If you’re equating having more money to being more happy, then you’re trying to succeed in order to be happy, and not happily succeeding. And there’s a big difference. Primarily speaking, when money is looked at as a source of happiness, rarely is a person every truly happy.

Now, this goes into a much bigger discussion about happiness levels pitted against income. But, what you might find interesting is that, across the globe, studies have found that more money doesn’t equal more happiness. As people make more money, they tend to accumulate more things, and their spending catches up with their earning. They’re on the Hedonic Treadmill, so to speak.

In a book that I published in 2013 entitled, How to be HappyI spoke about some of the effects of what psychologist Stephen Goldbart coined as Sudden Wealth Syndrome (SWS). Sudden Wealth Syndrome is something that afflicts anyone who receives a windfall of cash too soon in their lives. When that money wasn’t earned, its presence is abused. This affects everyone from lottery winners, to inheritors of large sums of cash, lawsuit settlement recipients, and so on.

On that same note, in a recent study conducted in 2010 by researches at three universities, which included Vanderbilt University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, showed that the more money that was won by lottery winners, the more likely a person was to go broke. The researchers split the participants into two groups: (a) those that won $10,000 or less, and (b) those that won $50,000 to $150,000. They concluded that the more money they won, the more likely they were to have filed bankruptcy within 5 years.

People who receive sudden windfalls of cash don’t know how to deal with it because they didn’t have to work hard to make the money in the first place. So, the point here is that, it’s not about having lots of money or receiving it suddenly; it’s about understanding how to build and nurture money from the ground up. To do this, you have to take some necessary steps, institute some important financial traits, and follow a basic set of rules. You won’t get ahead overnight. But, over time, you will most certainly find yourself succeeding.

Must-Have Financial Traits

In order to get ahead in life, then, one must embody a certain set of financial traits. These allow us to lay the groundwork for getting ahead and not succumbing to our every impulse and desire. Of course, mainstream media is no help with all of its portrayals of the rich-and-famous, and neither are all of those offers for credit that stream in moment after moment. But, when you can embody these must-have financial traits, you can get ahead in the long term.

This isn’t about overnight success. Anyone that tries to jump on the bandwagon of some get-rich-quick scheme is likely to fail, because success has more to do with persistence than it does some natural talent or ability. But, by embodying these financial traits, and not giving up, anyone get exit the rat race over time. These are the same financial traits that I discussed in The Millionaire Method

Trait #1 — Honest & Integrity

Exiting the rat race and getting ahead in life takes one major financial trait at the core that you absolutely must harbor, and that is honest and integrity. This trait must be embodied wholeheartedly if you want to get ahead at anything that you do. By being deceitful or deceptive, you might experience some short-term gains, but you will most certainly suffer with some harm to your long-term name.

When you’re honest and conduct your life with integrity, you might experience a slow and steady crawl while trying to get ahead in life, but you won’t suffer the ridicule and embarrassment of what happens to people when they try to take shortcuts. We’ve all seen the successful fall from grace when they attempted to take the dishonest route. From politicians, to athletes, business persons, and celebrities alike, this is something that has affected everyone.

Trait #2 — Skills Mastery

To exit the rat race and get ahead in life you must commit yourself to mastering a skill, and doing it to the nth degree. In a book called The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule, which  has been harnessed by all of those who have become masters in their trade. He argues that talent isn’t something that we’re born with, it’s something that’s derived from constant practice, learning, and growth.

So, if you want to excel in this world and get ahead, commit yourself to mastering a skill, and do it with all of your heart. Take up something that you love and pursue it with a passion. Always be learning and educating yourself because you can never stop growing. If you want to be a master at something, then commit yourself to 10,000 hours and beyond. What you’ll come to find is that whatever it is that you’re peddling will be highly sought after once you cross this threshold.

Trait #3 — Communication

Without the ability to successfully communicate your thoughts and your desires, you can almost assure yourself of never being able to exit the rat race and get ahead in life. Why is communication so important? Well, the ability to communicate rests at the foundation of any successful person, company, or organization because it helps them to convey ideas, build strong arguments, and address problems as they arise in life. Communication is the key to the doorway of success.

This might not sound like a financial trait that will allow you to get ahead in life, but it most certainly is. Whether it’s the long-term goals or just the short-term day-to-day life we lead, successful communication aids in the progression of not only careers, but also relationships, finances, health, and everything in between. Master the art of communication and ensure that you embody this trait if you want to get ahead in this thing called life.

Trait #4 — Conviction

I’ve talked about this trait in countless books that I’ve published including The Art of Persistenceand How Not to Give UpThis is such an important trait to embody that it really rests at the core of the successful person. Exiting the rat race, getting ahead in life, becoming financially free, or whatever you want to call it, is hard. In fact, it’s down right excruciatingly difficult. So, you have to be convicted to what you want in life. It has to be a passion that’s burning in your heart.

Without the trait of conviction, we can’t persist through all the perils that life throws at us. Without this trait, we would be jumping ship every chance we got, and that’s not the way to get ahead in life. By embodying conviction and finding your source of inspiration, you can see anything through. Nothing will be impossible for the convicted heart; absolutely nothing. Search deep down inside your heart and find something your passionate and convicted about, and the sky can only be the limit.

Trait #5 — Adaptability

One of the best traits for getting ahead in life is adaptability. This is adaptability towards whatever you do, whatever goal you strive towards, and whatever obstacles come in your way that seem to be impermeable. When you’re pushing towards a goal, you have to be able to change your approach, just like an airplane would that has a final set destination. The airplane doesn’t know the exact route down to the second, it has to adapt to changing conditions in order to arrive.

When you can adapt, you can not only survive, but you can also thrive. When it comes to a business environment, people that can’t adapt can’t thrive, and sometimes they can’t survive. You have to be able to adapt your approach towards whatever you’re doing in order to help you see your way there.

Rules for Getting Ahead (and staying there)…

Beyond the traits that we require to embody to get ahead, there are a set of rules that we must follow in order to succeed in life and exit the rat race. These set of rules are what I like to call the “Millionaire Rules,” because it’s the same roadmap instituted by the world’s financially free in governing their everyday lives.

Just how many of these rules do you embody and how many of them are you violating?

Rule #1: Always Make More than you Spend

The first cardinal rule for exiting the rat race is to make more money than you spend. Sound simple? Well, you would be surprised at just how many people violate this rule on a monthly and yearly basis. For the most part, people end up falling further behind with each passing month than getting further ahead. In fact, statistics show that the average U.S. household as of 2014 has $15,191 in credit card debt, $154,365 in mortgage debt, and $33,607 in student loan debt.

Now, it’s true that some debt is good to carry. But, the accumulation of things like credit card debt, especially those with high-interest rates, make getting ahead remarkably difficult. But most people have a hard time when a shiny credit card is in their wallet with room to spend on. And of course, some people take this to another extreme. But, regardless of your situation, you have to ensure that you make more than you spend every single month.

No matter what you have to do, whether it’s downgrading your house, car, or lifestyle, making more than you spend should be a priority. You can never get ahead in life if you’re merely slaving away to pay back debt that you’ve already accumulated. Can you imagine just how difficult it will be to exit the rat race in this scenario? There are always room for cuts in expenses, and depending on how determined you are to get ahead, you’ll do what it takes.

Rule #2 – Save your Money

The second rule for getting ahead in life, earning financial freedom, and exiting the rat race, is to save at least 10% to 20% of your income. Don’t have 10% to save? Then, that’s when you really need to save money. Start by cutting expenses. How about that $5 per day latte habit you have? How about that membership to some Website that you no longer use? How about turning off your cable for a month?

There’s always ways to cut expenses and save money. It doesn’t seem like much in the near-term, but if you can save $200 or even $500 per month, over time it adds up. And it’s not just about saving the money itself that matters. It’s about having moment-of-the-opportunity cash lying around. What do I mean? Well, part of what allows us to succeed long term is being able to strike when there’s an opportunity to do so. That’s when moment-of-the-opportunity cash comes into account.

If you don’t save your money, you can forget about getting ahead. This is a habit that you have to build up early on. If you’ve gone years and years and are continually in the hole, then set some real goals for yourself and stick to them. Get out of debt and embark on the road to a more stress-free life.

Rule #3 – Own the Roof Over your Head

Sounds simple enough right? Own the roof over your head. But most people don’t, which is a huge no-no in this world. Why is that? Well, a home is typically the biggest investment that a family has, and it’s an asset that can appreciate over time. When you don’t own the roof over your head, you’re simply paying someone else’s mortgage.

Financially speaking, renting can seem like a sound option due to it’s low overhead. However, you have to make some sacrifices and cut expenses, save money, and own the roof over your head. There’s a sense of pride that also goes into owning something that’s yours. If you don’t own your own home, then now is the time to set some goals and put a plan of action into place. Meet with a loan officer immediately to discuss your options. Don’t wait another moment!

Rule #4 – Own your Own Business

We’ve all heard the saying that time is money. It’s a phrase uttered everywhere we turn. We don’t have time to waste when we’re trying to get ahead because time literally is money. But, one of the biggest financial no-no’s in life is trading your time, directly, for money.

What do I mean?

Well, think about this for a moment, when there’s a direct and proportionate relationship between the amount of money that you spend to earn money, and your expenses generally catch up with your expenses, how can you possibly get ahead financially speaking? It’s incredibly difficult to do so, and only seldom few have been able to achieve long-term financial freedom with this method.

So, what are you supposed to do?

Well, in order to get ahead in life, you have to indirectly trade your time for money. In another words, you have to make money while you sleep. Sound impossible? Well, it’s not. And, even if you have a 9-to-5 job, you must commit the most valuable resource that you have, which is your time, to creating an income flow that will allow you to get ahead in life and not just life month-to-month.

But this takes some sincere commitment on your part. If you’re totally committed to exiting the rat race and getting ahead, then you need to take steps to owning your own business or creating a passive income stream that will pay you while you toil away at your “day job.”

Rule #5 – Death and Taxes

We’ve all heard the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes,” but what does it really mean? Well, financially speaking, taxes are going to be one of the single largest investments that you have to make. You must understand tax law and plan your finances accordingly or end up in hot water.

Too many people ignore this rule until it’s too late. Don’t fall into this trap. Plan ahead so that you can get ahead. Understand your tax implications, especially if you plan on embarking on new endeavors such as launching your own company, or engaging in some investment. Don’t procrastinate! Plan it out!

Rule #6 – Add Value to the World

To absolutely get ahead in life and exit the rat race you must always be adding value to the world. No matter what it is, wherever you go, whatever you do, however you act, always add value. If you find yourself trying to do the least amount of work for the most amount of pay, you won’t find yourself making very much long-term progress. You’ll be stuck in neutral, spinning your wheels, like a car caught in the sand on a deserted beach.

However, when you add value, and I mean real inherent value, then anything is possible. Focus on giving as much of yourself and your time in exchange for money. If you work a menial job, do it to the absolute best of your abilities. Don’t try to do as little as possible. Work hard, and eventually you’ll get ahead. It won’t happen overnight; it never does.