The Hamster Wheel

We identify the hamster wheel as a metaphor for work that has taken control of our lives.

Running for the sake of running.

Running faster and faster but, ultimately, going nowhere.

Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed, get up – repeat.

One of the reasons I get hired to facilitate monthly management meetings is that this is the ONLY time that the client has the chance to get out of the wheel, pause for breath and figure out what the heck is going on and what direction the business is taking.

An indicator is time flying – looking at the end of a month or quarter (or year!) and thinking “hell – where did that go?”

Realising that months have passed by since you last held a team meeting, since you enjoyed a good conversation with your managers, since you really analysed the numbers, since you reviewed your marketing ROI, since you spent any quality time with your family, since you last read a book, since you last got out into nature, since you listened (see yesterday’s post).

There are also times when the hamster wheel has a speed control that is being manipulated by somebody else – we are trapped inside and running as fast as the wheel spins, to avoid a catastrophic fall.

That can be chasing a UDA target or servicing debt, it is rarely associated with “winning” and more often focused on “not losing” – which creates fear and exhaustion.

We are now officially a few days into summer  and I’m reminded of a fateful July evening back in 1996.

I was working in financial services as a fee-based IFA, servicing a client base of small-business owners and professionals from an office in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

My work had taken over my life, driven by the fear of keeping up with my trophy lifestyle and I was staying late at the office to complete reports and paperwork.

Sometime in the middle of a balmy evening I walked over to my second-floor office window and looked out across a row of domestic gardens. I could hear the chatter of adults and the laughter of children. I could smell the BBQ’s. I was watching other families relaxing and having fun.

My wife and 5 kids were at home, possibly doing the same, I had no idea.

I can vividly recall asking myself what I was doing – how important it was that I finished the work, rather than make memories with my children.

Three years earlier at a Toronto sales conference, I had first heard Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach talk about The Entrepreneurial Time System of Free, Focus and Buffer Days.

This view from my office window and my sense of helplessness was the trigger I needed to do something about it.

I knew that my road warrior lifestyle wouldn’t suit being home every evening – but that I could compensate by taking more time off during school holidays.

That became a regular 12-weeks vacation every year – a successful habit that endured and made memories.

I regularly work with owners and managers who are stuck in the hamster wheel.

I don’t have to tell you what matters most.

There is always a solution, whether it is to grow a decent management team, delegate more or adjust priorities.

The bravest and most difficult step is the first one.



Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

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