On a pleasant autumn Friday evening, Finn and Meme are waiting at a café to meet with Nancy.
Meme: We were supposed to meet at 6pm and it’s half past 6 already. Do you know where Nancy is?
Finn: She said she was going to be late because of work, but she should be here by now.
Just then, Nancy walks in and spots her two friends at the corner of the coffee shop, with an assortment of empty plates of different shapes and sizes on the table.
Nancy: Gosh, how much have you both eaten already without me?
Finn: There she is! the hard-working corporate high-flyer!
Nancy: Oh don’t get me started! There is so much politics at work and everything is a competition. I really wish I can get out of this rat race.
Finn: It is more like getting out of a Hamster wheel. I got on the wheel when my dad made me join an Engineering college. And then I had to get a job. And then we had to keep working hard to get that promotion or else risk being left behind; or worse, get fired.
Nancy: Either way, we are rodents trying to find our way out of this maze.
Meme: There is more to the hamster wheel than just having to keep up with your job. The pressure to keep up with your peers and neighbours on having the latest phone, shoes, cars, and houses. The capitalistic machinery with the constant advertisements of a better lifestyle, with cheap loans to entice you into buying things you want, but don’t need – they all work together to ensure you stay on the hamster wheel.
Nancy: Tell me about it. I hate my job, but I’m also happy that I can afford all these things today that I was not able to afford before.
Meme: If you can’t buy something without a loan, it means you cannot afford it.
Nancy: Well that’s there, but they give me the loans only because they know I can afford it with my salary.
Finn: Is there a way we can escape this grind?
Meme: Let me tell you both a short story. Once upon a time there was a thin, hungry hamster. It was put into a hamster wheel by the new owner. The way the wheel was set up was that, as the hamster ran on the wheel, a few grains of rice would flow down to the bowl. As the hamster ran through the day, it would get enough grains to feed itself at night to avoid going hungry.
Finn: That sounds like us – running on the wheel everyday to get our salaries.
Meme: Indeed. So this hamster ran, ran, and ran all day and greedily ate up all the grains it collected through the night. Even though it had more rice than it needed, it kept eating the grains and started getting fat.
Nancy: Sounds like me. Over-compensating for the days it went hungry earlier.
Meme: And one day when the hamster became too old and too fat, it was unable to run on the wheel anymore and the grains gradually stopped. It had no choice but to go hungry again and eventually died in the jar.
Finn: Gosh, that’s so scary. Will I have enough money to survive once I have to retire from my job, or if I get fired due to the pandemic or something like that?
Meme: So continuing with the story, the owner replaced the hamster with a new one. This fellow, young, sprightly and intelligent, did something different. It ran, ran, and ran through the day, but at night consumed only as much grains as it needed to avoid staying hungry. Every day, the hamster left a small portion of the grains on the jar and avoided the temptation to finish eating everything. Over a period of time, the pool of grains it saved up started piling up like a tiny mountain. And one fine day, the mountain was so big reaching up to the top of the jar, that the hamster climbed up that tiny hill and got out of the jar.
Nancy: Ah the hamster that finally got out of the wheel!
Meme: Indeed. It was now happily able to run around the garden and enjoy the bright blue sky, and the smell of fresh roses.
Finn: And it had the mountain of rice to eat when it wanted to, so it would never go hungry again.
Meme: You got it! There is no short cut to wealth. You need to work hard to earn more money, but also be smarter to spend less than you earn, save and invest the difference. And be patient for a long time. That’s the only way to get out of the rat race or the hamster wheel or whatever you call it.
Nancy: That’s a great story. Now all this talk about the hamster eating rice has made me really hungry. Where’s the waiter? I want to order some food right now!