Work to live or live to work?

Do you work to live, or do you live to work?

The formula is different for everyone and so I beg you not to make a judgement until the end.

You may identify with one of these as you read.  

I’m going to look at both approaches and offer you a unique perspective into working and living. This will provoke certain emotions within you as you read but my intention is to help you discover what your core values are.

Once you have discovered your core values, your formula for work and life will become clear.

In my opinion a ‘work life balance’ will always be king. No matter how much you love or hate your job. The ability to balance the two is all that matters in the end.

Here we go…

Working to live

If you work to live your job is often a means to an end. Realistically, if you won the lottery you would not be seen dead at work the next day. Sadly, the majority of us are in this category. Bored, un-stimulated, and drained. Autopilot mode. But you continue, because it’s a way to pay the bills.

So, let me ask you again, do you work to live? Do you trudge in on Monday morning and sprint out on a Friday? Do you go wild at the weekends? Do you countdown the days until your next holiday? Do you dread your Monday mornings? If you are nodding your head then you are most likely in the work to live category.

This type of person is a slave to the 9-5. Lives for the weekends, 5pm, bank holidays and their annual flight to somewhere sunny.

When you work to live you may miss out on the rich feeling of fulfilment a meaningful career elicits.

I may have painted a negative image but working to live is not a bad thing. I’ll explain why soon.

Living to work

Are you living to work? Does work not seem like work? Do you get paid for doing something you love? Do you wake-up when you want? Do you work afternoons, evenings, weekends? Does every day feel like a Saturday?

If you are nodding your head you likely live to work. But it is not all that it seems. There is a sticky point here and it is when your passion controls your life. You may not even be aware but the amount of time that your thoughts and energy are devoted to your career may not be good for you, or those around you. This can threaten your life and everything attached to it.

Harry and Hayley

I’m going to delve deeper into two of my friends’ lives. Harry and Hayley. Harry works to live and Hayley lives to work.

Are you a Harry?

Harry works to live. Harry is counting down the days. Harry is counting down the days to retirement, Harry is counting down the days to the weekend, Harry is counting down the days to his holiday, Harry is dreading tomorrow again! Why? Well because tomorrow is Monday and Harry has to go back to f’ing work again.

The eight-hour cubicle shift is not the vision Harry had when he was a boy. What changed?

Harry feels trapped, drained, lethargic, depressed, and angry.

He can’t see through the grey clouds that have plagued him the last ten years. All Harry can see is a dark sky filled with big thick heavy clouds.

Harry has a car to pay for, a mortgage to pay for, kids to pay for, a phone to pay for, a partner to pay for. How could he stop now and do what he really wants to do? How could he take that risk?

All Harry can see is tragedy and so he shuts down any thoughts of a brighter sky, pulls his suit on and plods off to work, the same as he always has and always will. On Monday morning he slots into the wave of commuters shuffling to work, ready to do it all again.

But Thursday comes. Harry begins to see clearly again. Tomorrow is Friday and he has an awesome weekend planned with family and friends. No work for two full days. Harry has big plans and cannot wait to finish his day. The anticipation and a sense of excitement fills Harry with joy, lighting him up.

Not only is it Thursday but Harry knows next week is his last week before he sets off on his annual two-week holiday with his family. Two weeks in the sun with the people he truly loves. No work, no boss telling him what to do. It’s time to enjoy the money he has earned and the hours he has put in.

Are you a Hayley?

Hayley lives to work. She loves her career. She never sees work as a chore. From the minute she wakes up to the minute she goes to sleep she’s busy working. Often her husband describes Hayley’s work as “the other man” in her life. She can’t sit down to watch the television, she can’t disconnect to read a book, she always answers calls when she is out for a walk or lunch with her husband.

Hayley cannot understand why her husband doesn’t get it.

She feels like work makes her feel alive and energised.

As time goes on the lines between her working life and social life become even more blurred.

Hayley loves what she does but her life has no balance. Her social life is suffering, her marriage is suffering, her diet is suffering, her sleep is suffering. Hayley is on her way to a burn out. She just doesn’t know it yet.

What’s the answer?

Harry and Hayley’s lives both have their ups and downs.

On the one hand those who work to live have the ability to disconnect and compartmentalise their working career. They can enjoy the fruits of their labour with no strings attached.

On the other hand, those who live to work, yes may feel alive. Fulfilled. Passionate. Love Monday’s and be focussed with tunnel vision. But what about the rest? What about everything else in life that they used to value.

I said at the beginning the formula is different for everyone. There is not one gospel answer when it comes to how to approach work and life.

The answer I have come up with is not work to live or live to work. I believe the most effective method for you and I is to self-reflect. Self-evaluate. Have some perspective. Look at yourself from the outside in. If you were an innocent bystander what would you tell them to do? What would you say to them which would elicit a feeling of fulfilment from their job and life?

Discover your core values and align them with you work and life.

The simplest way to do this is to ask yourself how would you want your eulogy to sound? What do you want to be remembered for? What kind of person do you want to be remembered as? Asking these questions will help you discover your core values. Once you have discovered your core values, align them with your working life and personal life.

For me, my core values include integrity, honesty, and selflessness. The list is by no means exhaustive and so I only have named a few of my core values. In order to align my life with my core values I pursue what I am passionate about which is health and wellbeing. I also spend time with my family and friends. I also keep my body in shape by eating good foods and training hard. And so, I make sure I allocate time to all of these.

Of course, some days I will neglect these, that is part of life and makes us human. Fortunately, you and I have the opportunity to redeem ourselves. When we neglect our core values we have opportunities to get back on track. We have tomorrow, and the day after that. We always have another opportunity to continuously refine our work and personal lives to align with our core values.

Allocating time to the most important things in your life is my key message. Aligning your time allocation with your core values will help keep you feeling fulfilled, happy, balanced, and above all, at your best.  


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