Have you ever met someone who is so connected, so passionate about the work they do that you can’t imagine them ever doing anything else? Someone who doesn’t think about what they do as work, but rather as who they are as a human? Maybe that’s you. There have certainly been times in my life when I felt that way about a project or a role I held in an organization. And, we’ve all heard from career advisors, managers and others that this is the goal. Find your passion, and work will never feel like work. That’s living to work.
In theory, that sounds great, but is it the goal for everyone?
What if your primary focus is something other than work? You also probably know some people who have jobs that are just fine. It’s not their grand passion, it doesn’t define them, but it pays the bills, provides a bit of a challenge, gives them the flexibility they want to be able to focus on their life outside of work. It’s not a passion, but it’s a living. That’s working to live.
Do you work to live or do you live to work? It seems like a trick question, right? One of these has to be the “right” answer. If I say that I live to work, am I a bad mother? Have I bought into an elaborate con where I think I’m finding my passion, but what I’m really doing is making some business owner or investor rich on the fruits of my hard work? If I say that I work to live, am I copping out on doing my best work? Am I some kind of slacker who will never achieve anything meaningful?
Here’s the good news.
First off, there is no right answer. If you love what you do, and you can’t wait to get to work every day, that’s fantastic. If you have a great life, and you have work that allows you to pay your bills and focus on the things that matter to you, that’s awesome, too. It’s not about living up to someone else’s expectations of what your life should be like. So, you can stop worrying about whether you’re doing it right or not.
Here’s some more good news.
Most of us go through phases where we are living to work, and other phases where we are working to live. That’s part of the process of learning and self-exploration. There’s a pervasive idea in career planning that your path should be a clear set of steps from where you were when you graduated from college to the pinnacle of your career, and then on to retirement. The reality for most people is that life is a journey. Sometimes we are on the highway, moving rapidly towards a destination, and other times we are wandering country roads, exploring new places and learning in the slow lane.
Whatever your personal path looks like, remember that you are the only one who gets to decide what’s right for you, at this moment in time. You may have years where you love what you do and feel like your work is the center of your life. You may have other years where work is a background activity while you focus on your health, your family, a hobby, or some other aspect of your journey.
That’s the way it should be.