Live to Work or Work to Live? Why This Question is Irrelevent

Most people have heard the saying “Work to live, don’t live to work”. The logic of perceived wisdom has generally resonated with me and I felt like I should be aiming for this lifestyle where my working life, my job, was just a means to fund the rest of my time which, according to this saying, should be my true life.

For reasons probably related to the pressure of social norms and my competitive nature I haven’t achieved this state; I have led a career focussed life. I’ve often wondered if I should try to remodel my priorities and start to work to live. My failure to do so has played on my mind to a degree; I felt that I’m perhaps missing something compared to the more free spirited people around me. Should I downsize my career? Have an easier job that demands less time so that I can focus on things outside of work?

I’ve taken time to assess this situation and question the perceived wisdom and came to a conclusion that surprised me.

“Work” isn’t just a necessary evil that we must grind through to make money to fund the rest of our lives, work is an essential part of our lives. It provides fulfilment, it should be energising, provide self esteem and direction.

I enjoy work; many kinds of work. I enjoyed working as a labourer on building sites as student, I enjoy my current work which is much less physical but more cerebral and influential.

The question isn’t whether to work to live or live to work; I think that the saying is irrelevant. The question is are you doing the right work? Work can be anything that absorbs us, inspires us, gets us out of bed, makes us feel energised even when it is hard. We can have several kinds of work; some might pay money, some might not. We need to ensure that all the work that we are doing is the right work for us; our career and any other types of work that we do; art, writing, hobbies. They are all work, just of different kinds.

I’m not suggesting that life should be all work, balance is important, especially spending time with loved ones, but work should also be an integral part of the fulfilment we gain from life.

If the work that you do doesn’t inspire you, can’t get you out of bed in a morning for more reason than the threat of the sack, can’t paradoxically energise when you’ve poured everything you have into it, then you need to change that work, or perhaps you need to consider changing the way you think about your work.

There is a tendency, even a social norm, for work to be thought of almost as a punishment. The weight of the burden of work is passed down through generations. Could readdressing this ingrained attitude to work, removing the resentment and redrawing it as the integral and essential part of a fulfilling life that it is help people to greater overall happiness?

This might sound a little like a communist manifesto, and that is not what I intend. I do think that for many in the developed world the concept of work has become so demonised that the pleasure that work can and should deliver has been lost.

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