I came across your Double Take website by accident. I wouldn’t normally write to a problem page, but I liked the way that you seem to look at the different angles to a problem – and you don’t dictate to your readers. What’s my problem? Well, in theory, I don’t have any problems. I’m 35 and in a really well paid job with a financial services company. I earn enough that my wife doesn’t need to work – which is good because she’s just about to give birth to our second child. Our son is two years old, and the new baby should sort of complete our family. The trouble is that my work is really demanding – to do it well and to continue to be thought of quite highly in the company, I have to work long hours, I sometimes have to travel and be away overnight, and my wife complains that I never seem to be at home. And when I am at home, I tend to be exhausted. The thing is that if I don’t work flat out, then I won’t have the money coming in to keep paying the bills and keep the sort of comfortable lifestyle that we’ve become accustomed too. I’m not really the type to downsize or drop out of the ‘rat race’, nor do I think that my wife would want to live in a smaller house and manage with a smaller car. It’s difficult to explain, but I have a fear that I’m going to lose everything – my job and my family. What can I do to make myself feel ok about all this?
It is interesting that you use the expression ‘rat race’. Is that how you see it? I can see that you have thought through various options. I am wondering what other ways you can look at your life, including the grey areas, in order to reach a perspective that will work for you and your family. To live in fear of losing everything must feel like a very heavy burden to carry. I am wondering also, what you do to relieve your stress and how much you are running on adrenaline, which will be detrimental to your health long term. In the short term, your exhaustion is probably linked to that. Your fear is your mind and body sending you a warning sign that something needs to change. And the process starts with communication with your wife, discussing your priorities as a family, and how you together, as a team, maintain your individual and family health and happiness.
It sounds more of a ‘rat trap’ than a ‘rat race’.You seem to have got into a situation that is not only likely to be damaging to you, but also one that is not easy to extricate yourself from (if you wanted to). There is no doubt that you are in a ‘good’ job – but is it really good for you and your family? In purely material terms, it seems to be worthwhile. But your own anxiety seems to be a warning from yourself to yourself that this situation cannot be sustained in the long term. Something is going to have to give – and it could be your health, your relationship with your wife or your relationship with your children. Everyone seems to be benefiting from what you are doing – but are they really benefiting? And perhaps you also need to ask why you are driving yourself so hard – is it really just for your family, or is there something in your psychological make-up that is responsible for your working in the way that you do?
There seems no doubt that you are putting your health in danger. Human beings who find themselves in rat traps or rat races don’t fare very well, either physically or mentally. Your anxiety and stress are alarm bells that some sort of change is necessary – because this situation can’t last. If you care about your family, you need to take care of yourself. Talking everything through is a large part of the solution – talking between you and your wife, and possibly also the two of you talking with a couples counsellor. You are lucky in that it is not too late – yet – to avoid an unhappy outcome.