Working with a client in the last few weeks, the term “hamster wheel has come up to describe their view of working life right now. Hamster wheels were a device designed to give little furry animals the ability to really stretch their legs whilst still being in a confined space (thanks Richard, I knew that) but it’s a metaphor for maximum effort with no progress. An exercise in futility.
This is a common refrain. We’re all super busy but progress, real achievement seems elusive. The exhaustion at the end of last year, as we stumbled across the finishing line of a second year of pandemic was palpable. What did I achieve? Was the effort worth it? People ask the same questions after a frantic week or month.
The people I work with tend to be senior players: GMs, MD’s, Heads of. These are people with influence and authority and yet there is still the feeling that they are trapped in a system they are powerless to change. They report in to National, who reports in to regional, who reports in to global. The requests keep on coming. Attend this meeting. Lead this project. Contribute to this pitch. Attend this conference. Design and launch this product/service. Saying “no” seems career limiting and unhelpful. Saying “yes” drives the busyness and the hamster wheel continues.
As an absolute, I don’t buy this (and I acknowledge that being my own boss, I don’t work under such constraints as my clients). We are never powerless. We do have choices and we owe it to ourselves, the people working in our companies down the hierarchy, our family, partners and friends to make different choices. And these don’t have to be massive “line in the sand” positions we take. Maybe we seek a compromise or a negotiation, instead of a knee jerk “yes”. Small choices always ladder up to a different life. A life not in a hamster wheel. We’re not hamsters. Go on, run free.