Do we live to work or work to live?
It’s an aged old question. And the belief in the latter, ‘we work to live’ forms the basis for many a well-intentioned token of advice offered to those struggling through hard times at work.
Stress and pressure from work is not uncommon. If we look back over our careers, we can probably all recount times when work got on top of us and impacted our lives. Where we’ve dreaded getting up and going in to work.
Given that most people of working age spend 24% of their lives in work, 3% getting ready for work (not including the 7 snoozes of the morning alarm!) and another 5% travelling to and from work, it’s a pretty big part of our lives to just ‘endure’.
Where are the lines?
With a third of our working life being dictated by work, where are the real lines between work and ‘life’?
We spend more time at work than pursuing our hobbies, seeing our friends, and, as if often the case, spending time with our families.
We often describe the lines as a unit of time. ‘When I’m in work, I’m working. When I’m home, I’m me’.
Looked at simply, we should never accept a career than takes and takes and takes with little reward.
No-one should spend the bulk of their working (and often personal) time stressed or over-worked. Not for pro-longed periods of time anyway.
The same well-intentioned people who are dishing out the advice that people shouldn’t stress because we work to live, not the other way around, would no doubt advise that, when in this situation, you should just find another job.
But it’s not always that simple, is it?
The individual who is stressed and pressured and working all hours under the sun, is doing it for a reason.
Maybe it’s a job that enables a decent livelihood or comes with a fantastic final salary pension.
Maybe it’s a personal pursuit to improve things where they work, and an unwillingness to admit defeat.
Maybe they don’t want to turn their backs on their team and/or colleagues, who, over time, have become their friends.
Maybe they have no other choice – there simply aren’t any alternative options.
Maybe they don’t know what the alternative options are.
Are we even asking ourselves the right question?
Rather than ‘Do I work to live or live to work?’, it could be that we should be asking ‘do I plain love working or not’? ‘If I had money in the bank and an option to just pursue my dreams and spend time with my family and friends, would I quit work and just enjoy life?’.
For some, work is their hobby. It forms the basis of their dreams. It’s what they love about life and it’s what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning.
Those who’s hobby is work will, on the whole, be satisfied.
Those who’s hobby is anything but work will usually always have a reason not to be satisfied, because they’d rather not be there at all.
What advice would you give to a 16-year old you?
The world is advancing. Jobs for life simply don’t exist in large quantities these days.
For me, aged 16, the very thought of having to ‘work’ for 45 years straight to get a decent pension on which to retire (and ultimately on which to survive before the inevitability of death!) never really crossed my mind. I couldn’t, and still can’t if I’m honest, see myself not doing something that you would describe as work. Even if I didn’t need the money.
But a lot of people are enduring a career, counting down the days until they can retire.
Given we’re all living longer these days, most of the working population are facing the prospect of an endless tunnel as they wait for a retirement age that keeps getting pushed back by the Government.
When I listen to someone describe how much they hate working and that they only do it because they need money in the bank, I don’t try to reassure them that we only work to live, so just make do until you retire.
Instead, I explore with them how they can ensure that that 32% of time spent in or around work becomes something they enjoy. A good part of their life.
To do that, people who are having a hard time with work need to spend less time in pursuit of that dream job with a new company that magically balances out financial reward with a great work-life balance, enabling a stress-free personal life. Believing that their next job will be the one that does just that. And then promptly realising that they’re still not satisfied and that the grass was, in fact, not greener on the other side.
Instead, they should spend that time considering what it is that they truly enjoy. And then create a personal career path that enables a happy blending of work and personal life. Researching what’s out there. Asking for good advice. Stepping out of their comfort zones and trying something new.
A stressed-out Admin Assistant in a large corporation might become a fantastic PA to a rising entrepreneur. Enjoying a life of flexibility and opportunity. They just need to have confidence in themselves, set that goal and pursue it.
An over-worked Para-Legal might just find a new career in Tech that suits their skill base yet opens them up to a vast array of different employers, giving them free will on who they work for and what type of job they have. They just need to have confidence in themselves, set that goal and pursue it.
An under-paid and under-valued Middle Manager might just have the potential to start their own business and establish relationships with dozens of like-minded new entrepreneurs who, over time, become their friends. They just need to have … you know where this is going.
For those people not enjoying work, what advice would you give the 16-year old version of yourself?
Just knuckle down and endure?
Try harder through School and University?
Or, maybe, you’d advise them to think about what they enjoy and pursue that in a career. And to strive for the perfect blend between work and home. Not because of a healthy work-life balance, but because you love what you do in work. And as such, work is a major positive in your life.
Then ask yourself why you’re not heeding your own advice now.
You’ve likely still got a long career ahead of you, so there’s plenty of time to act.
It’s either miserably and longingly watch the clock and dream of retirement, or secure a life that you love where work and personal become one.