Why does the Race of Life cause such Stress and Anxiety?

The Stress and Anxiety of Running the Race of LifeIn my quest to find a reason behind our insistence on coping with stressful working lives, I stumbled across the following analogy…

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re taking part in a marathon, a 42 kilometre foot race with several hills to climb, run on a hot day.  Around you hundreds of other runners are battling, as are you, with pain, cramps, weariness.  Along the route there are those watering stations you find at all the large marathon events. (trestle tables with volunteers, anxious to hand out sachets of water, and cool, damp sponges, to the athletes as they trundle past.)  Now suppose you had the sole right, among the participating athletes, to collect water and sponges along the route.  You, only you, are entitled to take the little plastic containers that are held out to you – none of the other athletes are.  You exercise this right vigorously, grabbing several baggies, and sponges, at each water station, stuffing those you can’t immediately use into your vests and the top of your jogging shorts.  Around you others are dehydrating, cramping, going through various forms of hell due to a lack of fluid but you have a plentiful supply – dozens of extra bags, in fact, distributed about your person.  Every few seconds a fellow stressed athlete begs you for some water but you ignore these requests – you, after all, are the sole authorised water user in the race and why should you part with that valuable right?

This hypothetical race would have two consequences.  Around you runners would be dropping like flies, stumbling and falling as their severely dehydrated bodies seize up, unable to cope with the stress.  And you – you’d be staggering through the course, weighed down by anxiety and the increasingly heavy burden of the water sacks and sponges you’re collecting at each refreshment station.

A pretty ridiculous picture.  If, for whatever bizarre reason, you did have the sole water collecting rights in our make believe race, you’d share the water out with others in distress.  You’d probably, in fact, publicly renounce your right, instructing the equally stressed race officials to make sure that water and sponges are handed out to everyone.  You also wouldn’t load yourself up with more water than was needed to get you to the next refreshment station.

Why, then, do so many of us intelligent beings handle the race of life like the marathon athlete we’ve just described?  We stress and hope and pray that we’ll be able to develop the skills, the product, the acumen, that will enable us to scoop the kitty, financially speaking, rocketing us into the league where we earn the really big bucks.  We strain, sweat, strive, compete, in order to achieve that goal.  But as and when this dream becomes a reality, as we start raking in the dollars and our lifestyles become more comfortable and perhaps even extravagant, we develop two obsessions, twin anxieties which take up much of our time and energy – how do we keep what we’ve earned, and how do we get more?  Analyse the thoughts and motions which drive just about all of our actions, especially those during working hours, and you’ll find that they’re based on these two considerations – freeze onto what you have; reach out and grab some more.

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