Friday, July 19, 2013

Are you living to work, or working to live?

Recently, I encountered a gentleman who made me think very carefully about life, and what it means to be alive. Not that we had ever really talked, or even sat in the same break room during lunch breaks. In fact, the most profound discourse that had ever passed between us came after he had already died. Of course it was a bit one sided, but a big deal just the same. You see, this fellow was 59 years old, and in the sort of health that, really, wouldn't indicate that he had any serious medical issues to contend with. He wasn't overweight, had a generally happy attitude while he was alive, and appeared in all honesty to be the sort of person that would live well into his nineties. Except for the fact that one day, he simply keeled over and left this world for good. Fin.

The question that rattled through my brain at that moment was "good lord, he hadn't even retired!" Of course, that was beside the point, but it does beg the question, how many of us are looking forward to a life in our old age filled with trying and failing to find jobs because of our advanced age? Are we all doomed to live our golden years in some obscure big- box store, greeting youngsters as they pass by, oblivious to our best intentions? Are we alive simply to work and put money in someone else's pocket? Or, are we actually working to live?

The idea of working to live, rather than vise-versa, is far from a new idea, but it was turned on its ear by the industrial revolution. Suddenly, people stopped working for their own livelihood, and were asked to contribute to a greater purpose- making the boss rich! More than that, people were told (and the ideal still persists) that by working hard enough, you'll eventually get ahead. This is true, to a point. Today, politics, taxes, and huge competition tend to stifle small enterprises that are independent, as opposed to franchises that have corporate backing. So, what is this age-old idea inspired by a dead man? 

First, take a good look at the stuff that surrounds you. How much of it will eventually end up in a yard sale, or worse yet, a trash bin? Do you tend to buy things whimsically? If you're surrounded by stuff that you never seem to have the time to use, then chances are good that you're living to work. All those things will weigh you down! On the other hand, if your "stuff" is minimal, but you've got loads of picture frames and postcards, mementos of places you’ve been and experiences you’ve had, then what you’re doing is working so that you can live. Get the difference yet?

Living to work is boring. It breeds unrest and dissatisfaction with our jobs, and it can lead to a whole lot of job switching over the course of a career. Sure, there are plenty of occasions when a change of venue is warranted, but really, are you investing so much of yourself into your company that you barely have time for anything else, much less spending time with your family and friends? Do you feel satisfied with that arrangement as yet another dinner sits cold on the dinner table while you slave away over yet another stack of reports that will only end up filed in some obscure corner of a warehouse somewhere? Do you call that living? Since you’re probably answering no right now, I’ll give you a piece of advice that the old guy in the next office over from me never had the chance to offer. Don’t wait. Enjoy the experiences now. Take your vacations and don’t feel bad about the ill looks that people give you when you get back, all tanned and relaxed. They’re just jealous, but maybe you can serve as an inspiration to them. Don’t let life pass you by just because you feel as though your job will suddenly take off without you. After all, you could find yourself feeling extraordinarily unfulfilled one day soon, leaning over your desk as the cold fluorescent lights fade all around you. 

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