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Do You Live to Work, or Work to Live?

March 19, 2013

Iphone pics 2010 127I recently took a staycation – you know, that unique experience of spending vacation time relaxing at home rather than an exotic locale. I hadn’t done this in years, but the Spring Break schedules of my wife and daughters did not synch up, so I decided to just stay home.

The idea of lazing around the house for a week was thrilling. I imagined sleeping in ’til ungodly hours, watching too much TV, and eating excessive amounts of chips and salsa.

The reality, however, was more reasonable, involving some Spring cleaning, cooking a few healthy meals, exercising just about every day, and plenty of uncollected time for reflection, reading and writing.

The break from work gave me enough mental space to slow down, to think in another dimension altogether, like I was now flowing on the current of a gentle river rather than the usual frenetic pace of paddling furiously upstream. That being said, it took me a good three days to stop ruminating about the goings-on at my job, to shrink those seemingly monster challenges and lists and mid-stream projects down to size.

Really, my work doesn’t define my life, but stepping back for a minute, I realized that it takes up a noticeably large amount of mental storage capacity. Work has this strange effect of zooming things larger than they really are.

In last week’s New York Times Sunday business section, there was a sobering essay by Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, where she reflects on the slippery slope that led to her conceding to an all-consuming job prior to her resignation in 2008 during its collapse. “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job,” she says. “It just crept in over time.”

I can imagine her initial excitement and pride over a promotion to the top executive spot. People work their whole lives for such influence and responsibility (not to mention, the bonus swag). But it only led to a one-dimensional life, a self-defining rut with no boundaries. Callan puts it rather bluntly: “Work came first before my family, friends and marriage – which ended just a few years later.”

Our careers are important. It takes a great deal of determination and intensity to make a go of it. But at what point do we cross the fine line that moves us from healthy functionality to psychotic obsession? Callan continues, “I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.” 

Perhaps we are all prone to becoming overly defined by our jobs.

It’s easy to get sucked into weird, irrational thinking when we are consumed by our work, achieving and accomplishing, solving difficult issues. I like my job, I certainly appreciate the income, and I am loyal and devoted to my company, but I wouldn’t want my job to overly define me, or my life.

It’s a fine line, people.

Listen: your company is not your life sponsor, your moral compass, or your spiritual advisor. It is simply a place where you are contributing something of value in exchange for a paycheck. Outside of that, it is up to each of us individually to make choices that are healthy and respectful of ourselves, our families, our wholeness.

No one else is going to do that for you.

And then you’ll realize: Your life outside of work is huge.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2013 8:52 am

    I read that article by Erin too…and it was stunning. When she talked about her “off time” on the weekends, everyone expected that she was skydiving or rock climbing or engaged in adventure. Her husband told people that just “just slept.”

    Work. Eat. Sleep. Really? No wonder her ‘compass’ got off. It isn’t just “life balance” — it’s an integration of all things for the glory of God. That’s the start and that’s the end.

  2. March 19, 2013 8:37 pm

    taking time to do something different from the usual daily routine is a good practice.

    trying something new and different.

    btw…how is your ‘man-and-his-cat studio’ coming along?

  3. pastordt permalink
    March 20, 2013 12:23 am

    Amen. And thanks.

  4. March 20, 2013 3:02 pm

    yessss, thank you for reminding about most important things in the world!

  5. March 20, 2013 9:46 pm

    Wow, sounds like a staycation filled you up with good stuff–a big bowl of paella with insight into the philosophy behind work & life/family balance.

  6. March 21, 2013 4:41 am

    Jim, thanks for this. The creep is so real- I often wake up at night thinking about work stuff and realize then that I need to step away and unplug.

  7. March 22, 2013 9:14 am

    Really thoughtful post about a frighteningly common problem, JB. Hadn’t seen the Callan piece, so thanks for sharing. I spent the first 10 years of my career desperately seeking a job to which I could devote every ounce of my energy. Now I realize how it fortunate it was that I never found it.

  8. March 22, 2013 2:29 pm

    Sometimes job loss can be a blessing in disguise – it can wake us up to the fact that we are more than our jobs. But yet, I wonder how we can really get this ahead of time. I don’t think there’s some easy formula. You just have to walk closely with people who can hold you accountable, and you have to keep the Word in front of you.

  9. March 25, 2013 6:06 pm

    “You see, George? You really did have a wonderful life.” Clarence Oddbody, AS2

    Sorry. I firmly believe there are few things which can’t be captured by a quote from It’s a Wonderful Life. But. That’s the line that sprang to mind when I read this line from you:

    And then you’ll realize: Your life outside of work is huge.

    Good stuff, as usual. And I, for one, appreciated the lovely photos of the Paella, together with the suggested wine pairing.


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