For my first job in Washington, DC, I worked very long hours. One night, a rare dinner date was lined up. “What time do you get off?” my date asked to coordinate. A long, awkward pause followed. “It’s kind of a philosophical question,” I finally admitted.
That was fine by me at the time, but it shouldn’t have been. We all have busy seasons in our lives, yet there’s more to life than work. A whole lot more.
This can be a hard point for especially driven people to grasp. We tend to see a lot of the things with which people occupy their time as pointless distractions.
Hobbies? Why? Closing time? What’s that? Weekends? You mean second and third Fridays, right? A normal amount of sleep? Who has the time?
Turning it around
I eventually figured out that this was the wrong way of doing life, with a lot of help from family and friends. But that took a long time—7 years in DC, all told.
When it finally dawned on me what was wrong, I changed everything. In a shift chronicled in this space before, I switched jobs, moved all the way to the other side of the country, and started living life in earnest. Among many other things, I
- Went to Bellingham Bells baseball games and bought season tickets
- Got back into comic books
- Accidentally started collecting original paintings
- Ate at practically every restaurant in Whatcom County
- Got married
- Started cooking
- Tried my feet at stand-up comedy
- Bought a house
- Started a Saturday brunch for family and friends
There is one work-related myth that highly productive people, including the younger version of yours truly, often believe. It is that if you make time to live life, you can’t accomplish very much at your job.
The older version of me knows better. People who have made the same shift are likely to look back at their work product and say, “Oh balderdash!” All work and no play makes Jack a dull, ineffective worker, we now know.
By doing nothing but work, we court burnout. This leads to stagnation. By living life, we renew our mental and physical energies. This allows us to work much more creatively and productively in the time we do work.
I can just about hear some of your eyes rolling at this point. Sure, maybe that worked out for me, but your circumstances are different. It’s not so easy for you to pull it off right now, given where you are in life and in your organization.
Know this: Living life is rewarding for me and for others who have made the shift, but it’s very far from easy. If you’re reasonably good at what you do, more work than you can manage will stalk you.
You’ll make a mistake and say “yes” to too much of it sometimes. This will lead you to wonder if you’ve even made any progress. And if not, what’s the point of fighting it?
Know that it’s going to be a struggle. You’ll have to fight to keep it from crowding out any chance of living. You’ll have to learn to say “no” more creatively and forcefully.
The solace temptation
This will be especially hard when your own life goes from great to a horror – as happened in my own life just last year. When serious setbacks happen, you’ll be tempted to find solace in your work.
Granted, piling it on can be a great distraction, for a time. But I would argue that you owe it yourself to look in the mirror and ask, “Is that really what I want out of life?”
Work can be truly great, but most jobs end these days and much sooner than they did for our forebears. Too many people find themselves out of a job and unsure of what to do with themselves.
They get lost because they derived most of the telos – their unfolding, momentum, or purpose – in their lives from their employment. In setting themselves up for the “good life” down the road, they never really learn how to live.
That may be the end that you’re staring down, but it doesn’t have to be. Do you see where your story is headed and crave a course correction?
Then start here: Decide that there’s more to your life than working, and go fight for it.