Rebbetzin Jungreis, several times, tells a parable of one of the wise men of Chelm (a town renowned for its foolishness). A man was preparing to go to the bathhouse, whereupon he realized that without his clothing, he wouldn't be able to distinguish between himself and others. So he tied a red string about his toe, so as to be able to tell himself, and got in the water. When he got out, the red string was gone, and instead on someone else's toes. The man went up to the other man, and said, "I know who you are, but who am I?".
Rebbetzin Jungreis says, too many of us judge ourselves by our "strings" - our jobs, money, success, popularity, etc. A few times, she counseled people who came to her complaining about their depression over losing their jobs, etc., how they lost social popularity, etc. She always told them that they had to realize they were more than what they earned or where they work; everyone has a Divine core, a holy personality, that transcends his materialistic aspects.
Rabbi Angel's book, as one can tell from the title (Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life), covers a lot of the same ground as Rebbetzin Jungreis does, vis a vis materialism and such. But he also finds a way to deal with some completely separate psychological and lifestyle issues, such as how immodest and/or flashy clothing makes ourselves into "it"s, how we should be comfortable being true to ourselves and not concerned with what others think (to an extent - we should have enough concern not to offend them). He says everyone should be a noncomformist - true to themselves, and not conforming to outside standards. People who dress unconventionally are actually noncomformists if they do so for attention; true noncomformists dress however they are comfortable, without regard for what others think (except for dressing neatly and presentably, etc.). People who display themselves based on their bodies or their wallets make themselves into objects, not humans. This is not so different than treating others impersonally as objects, to be utilized pragmatically and selfishly. Along the way, he also touches on racism, the cultural conflict between traditionalism and modernity (such as how immigrant generations cope and react), and other issues.
I think the two reviews hosted by Amazon.com (see other reviews here) summarize Rabbi Angel's book well:
Most of us live on a treadmill of sorts, rushing from home to work to kids' soccer practices and dance recitals to PTA meetings and somehow wedging in shopping, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, working out, and when there's any time left over, pursuing hobbies. Whew. Amid our goals, or perhaps central to them, is getting ahead, financially and socially. A better job, a bigger raise, the latest fashions, a larger house in a better neighborhood. Not that there's anything wrong with all that except for the fact that we can easily lose our true selves in the rat race and forget the things that make our lives genuinely rich: being a more loving and sympathetic partner, promoting our values, pursuing inner serenity, striving for greater humility. In a somewhat rambling fashion, Rabbi Angel reminds us that we are placed on Earth to attain the transcendent treasures of wisdom, love, spiritual insight, and moral courage. By directing our lives according to these ideals, he says, it's easy to leave the self-centeredness and consumerism of the rat race in the dust. Angel is the author of 18 books on religion and faith. --Robin Levinson, Jewish Book Worldand
R. Angel's Losing the Rat Race is an exemplar of contemporary Orthodox Judaism at its best. It is a triumph because it avoids triumphalism. R. Angel writes as a believing, practicing Jew and as a probing, sensitive citizen of the world. He affirms both his humanity and his ethnic, religious Jewish self. Unlike R. Harold Kushner's Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, who addressed the problem of suffering by presenting a God Who is less than all-powerful, R. Angel, like, R. Soloveitchik, affirms both the suffering person and the commanding reality of God. He lives with the tension in the human condition. Like the Talmudic passage that concedes that it might have been 'better' for humankind not to have been created, we were in fact created and must make the right moral choices. For R. Angel the mental effort to make the moral choice defines our humanity. Modesty is defined not by how much of one's body is covered, but what we reveal about our character. A morally authentic human being chooses to do right; the Orthodox Jew obeys God and, when necessary, must reject the social consensus that claims to speak on God's behalf. Citing Chancellor R. Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University, those who suffer from 'neophobia,' or fear of the new, reflect their culture, but not their Judaism.
Losing the Rat Race challenges the reader to re-orient oneself in order to Win at Life. We cannot be honest to God if we are dishonest to ourselves. In this modern morality tract, the learned, humane, gentle Rabbi Marc Angel is brutally frank and generously gentle. In this volume, the poles of justice and mercy are fused in beauty, the beauty of holiness. --Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, National Jewish Post and Opinion
Describing her own difficulties in finding a job, Naamah writes simiarly, saying,
Nonetheless, perhaps without reason, I have to hold onto some kind of hope that things are going to improve, and I think I have learned some things through my difficulties. One important insight that I think I have gained is that I am not what I do for a living, or what I study. I have a core being that transcends those things and people have a value beyond their worldly achievements. Unfortunately, even in the Jewish community, there seems to be an undue emphasis on occupations and material success. In seeming contrast to this lesson, I have also realized just how much money it takes to live and what an emotional toll financial struggle takes. It makes me wonder if I have made a horrible mistake, that I should have done something lucrative to provide for my and my children’s future. I have not yet figured out how to strike a balance between these two opposing ideas, but it’s nice to know that I have something that has remains intact despite my lack of a job.
The other thing that this period has afforded me is an opportunity to engage in some real spiritual self-reflection that might not be possible if I were occupied with other things. Without the security of a job, school, or a relationship, I’ve been stripped down to the essentials. What do I really want or need? What is actually good for me? Now as we’re in the month of Elul and approaching the High Holidays, I find myself in the perfect place to start over again and to implement real change in my life. Maybe I had to go through some difficulty to get here, and now I’m going to be the better for it. Maybe those jobs I didn’t get and those relationships that didn’t work out weren’t right for me anyway. My secular friends would probably think I’m crazy for saying all this, and I don’t expect G-d to hand me a miracle, but I feel there is a real opportunity here for things to go in a positive direction.