I talk to people occasionally that liken their life to that of a hamster on a spinning wheel. I think homemakers in particular struggle with this because of the nature of much of their work: washing clothes, cleaning, and cooking are all jobs that seem endless and sometimes lacking in significance.
The politically correct thing for me to say at this point is that cleaning and cooking are in fact very significant tasks and in many ways they are, but I also understand the perspective that would lead a homemaker to be dissatisfied in that role. This is not a problem limited just to homemakers and I have dealt with it too. The truth is that all of us can fall into ruts where our days are consumed with just treading water: surviving for the next day. And if we are not careful, those days can turn into months and years.
My idealistic perspective on this may be a bit tainted by the fact that in our culture, we are blessed beyond belief. When I look across the span of history, I see the majority of people in every culture and time period basically struggling to survive. Historical movies portray luxurious lives of the nobility, but for every rich noble, there were hundreds of hungry peasants fighting for their next meal. Most of them could not even imagine a life off the hamster wheel and they had to find joy in life in very meager ways by today’s standards.
That being said, we do live in a blessed time and most of us do have a capacity for living a life that is more ambitious than just treading water. We can pursue ministries and dreams, we can choose our own occupations and find joy in our work, and we can devote extra time to passions and hobbies. There is no reason to feel guilty about taking advantage of today’s reality.
So if you feel you are on the hamster wheel at the moment, how do you start to crafting a life that feels more significant? After all, the things on that hamster wheel have to be done and they do devour your time.
One of the things I have found helpful in my life in regards to this is to divide the tasks I do every day into two categories. I call them maintenance and modification.
Maintenance tasks are the hamster wheel things that have to be done time after time. They are not necessarily fun things or rewarding things and they can be time consuming. Doing the books for my business is an example of a maintenance task. Yours might be housework or a 9-5 job you hate but need the income from. These tasks are important and necessary.
Modification tasks are long range things that you do in addition to maintenance tasks to help make your life more significant and rewarding. For example, going back to college to learn a new skill for an occupation change would be a modification. Investing extra in your children above normal interaction might be a modification. Volunteering for a new ministry at church is a modification. For me, recording a new CD is a modification.
One of the most important modification things I ever did in my life was back in 1999. I was working full time but I decided to get up two hours early every day to start building a website to sell online. I did that for a few years and then one day, was able to walk away from corporate America and the hamster wheel it had me on. Then, a few years later, without any big ambitions of any sort, I took on the modification task of recording Timeless Reflections, a project that would change the trajectory of my life.
The key to getting off the hamster wheel is to keep the maintenance going (because it has to keep going) but to all intentionally start introducing modification tasks into your life. At the end of every day, you need to be able to point to at least one thing you did in your life that was modification. In fact, I encourage you to write down three modification goals at the beginning of every day and find a way to make them happen.
As you might guess, modification takes time and it takes sacrifice. There are many people who will not be willing to put in either. They will justify their hours in front of TV every night by saying their job is too demanding and they need downtime. The problem with that is this: in the history of the world, people have never had the downtime that we do and yet people are still as a whole dissatisfied with their lives. If you want more fulfillment and significance in your life, some of that downtime is going to have to be sacrificed.
Some of you legitimately don’t have much downtime in your life. Your life is a furious hamster wheel because of circumstances you may not even have any control over. If you fit into that category, you may have to think less aggressively in terms of modification but please never give up on it entirely. Every day, find one small modification you can do that day that inches you in the right direction.
Start small but be consistent. Over time, it will make a difference.