Should You Work To Live, Or Live To Work?

Should You Work To Live, Or Live To Work?

Innovation in work, meaning and purpose in the modern age

In our piece on ‘The Work Place Revolution’ commissioned for the X+Why blog, we took a look at how co-working spaces are tackling the burn out epidemic through much needed updates to the conventional workspace. Including more efficient systems, company culture, collaboration, remote work and better balance. But what can be done on an individual level?

When finding the sweet spot between work and life, it’s important to know yourself and to develop a sense of what kind of worker you are, to better watch for any imbalances. This will also come in handy if circumstances ever change your attitude. There’s no shortage of individuals who killed their native passion for work because they couldn’t find an adequate position or sufficient pay in their preferred fields.

If you have settled strictly for the compensation but might desire a change of heart, there are ways to reassess the situation and rekindle your passions based on what you know about your working style. What we do with our lives and how we feel about it, ripples out to touch our relationships with our friends and families, before it is reflected back upon ourselves.

It should be noted that there is a difference between deriving pleasure from work, and deriving pleasure from money. Money might be the reason that someone loves working, and in some cases it comes down to ego, power or self-esteem, not just financial freedom, self-expression and opportunity. However it is more about how people perceive the income reflects their work, and their perception of where life’s most valuable commodity – time, is best spent.


Working to Live: Survival Instincts

The sentiment behind working to live is that the day job is simply a means to an end, and the sooner the day is over, the better. This can quickly turn into a race to retirement and a wishing away of the dread that washes over you every morning when the alarm goes off.

According to a study by Gallup’s State of the Workplace, this is sadly where the majority lie, with only one in three workers being engaged at work. Feeling disengaged is particularly common among mid-career professionals, concerned that it’s too late to do anything else, and they may come to feel trapped over time.

This can often make work feel like a battle – between what an individual wishes to do, and what they have to do with their time and lives, as well as a battle of values. However it doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s not to say that these workers don’t take pride in their work, but that their priorities lie elsewhere. Perhaps the position offers the hours and pay necessary to enhance other aspects of their lives – from family, to hobbies, volunteer work or religious devotion for example.

For some people, pursuing their passions as a means of paid-work would take the fun out of it. We all have our part to play however great or small, and having a job that pays the bills, keeps a roof over your head, allows you to enjoy your hobbies and supports dependents as far as needs be, is a baseline for which we can be truly grateful.


Living to Work: Labour of Love

Living to work may be the mantra of people that have been lucky enough to find and follow their passions in life. It might also come down to impact, or self-esteem, with professional achievement being the biggest source of satisfaction in such workers lives.

In an extraordinary way, when we engage with work, we shape and mould ourselves through the challenges we may not have otherwise faced. Broadening our horizons and up-skilling in this way can be both rewarding and fulfilling. Work shapes some of our most important decisions in life: where we live, who we spend the most time with, and where our interests and goals lie.

Even so, turning a hobby into a career can be anything but seamless and being married to your job can at times still feel like going through the motions. There is also a fine line between being engaged and consumed, passionate and preoccupied – leading to overwhelm.

Workaholics may be addicted to the adrenaline that comes from solving a crisis, closing a sale or tying their worth to results. Perhaps in some cases it may also be a subconscious choice to suppress unwelcome emotions by keeping busy – a means of quietening questions around some of our biggest questions: Am I fulfilled? Am I doing what I really want to be doing? Am I living a meaningful life?

Daniela Flores is the co-founder of Purpose Union, who are resident at X+Why space and have centred their business model around answering such questions, whilst helping others to do the same. Social impact businesses are an effective way of bringing a healthy balance of passion to our approach to work, and are paving the way to brighter futures for both employees and society at large. Daniela Flores comments:


‘Companies are becoming increasingly interested in their purpose, [and] tackling topics such as climate change, knife crime, childhood obesity and mental health for example. In the climate of political and economic instability, where governments are failing to take responsibility, business leaders are increasingly filling the void, to lead us into a brighter future for everyone’.


Simon Sinek also recently paid a visit to X+Why space to talk about the future of work and the need for an ‘infinite’ instead of ‘finite’ mindset when it comes to the enterprise and leadership of today. In order to succeed in the game in which we find ourselves, he highlights the importance of finding a just cause, building trusting teams, finding a worthy competitor, having the flexibility to pivot and the courage to lead. In his words:


‘As for us, those who choose to embrace the infinite mind-set, our journey is to feel inspired every morning, safe when we’re at work and fulfilled at the end of each day. And when it’s our time to leave the game, we will look back at our lives and our careers and say, ‘I lived a life worth living’, but even more importantly, when imagining what the future holds, we’ll see how many people we inspired, to carry on the journey without us’.


Temet Nosce: Know Thyself

Knowing ourselves is one of the most fundamental things we can do in life. Uncomfortable and difficult as it may be in today’s age, the answer lies in carving out occasional moments of stillness. Ask yourself, if I won the lottery tomorrow, and didn’t have to work again, what would I do? – once you’d gotten bored of the parties and champagne. This type of conversation with yourself can provide the breadcrumbs towards what’s missing.

Well-run companies understand the importance of employee engagement as one of the strongest drivers of performance. But what many individuals find difficult is the ‘just-right’ level of engagement for themselves.

These days it’s even harder to delineate between ‘work’ and ‘life’: we wear our job descriptions on our social media profiles, as they sink into our digital avatars and private lives. It can also be a fast track to burn out, as when your career is aligned with your natural abilities, talents, interests and values it can be difficult to pull on the breaks.

As with any investment, it’s important to be informed before making a decision. Evaluate your skills, personality and interests using self-assessment tools. Know your strengths and weaknesses, your values, and how much time and money you are willing to invest into different aspects of your life.

Whether you are working to live or living to work, there are different ways of adapting and bringing individual elements of meaning and purpose into the routine. Often many of us cycle through different phases of doing both at select stages in life, and the variation and variety is healthy. Having the choice, is often worth more than the decisions made.

For a detailed deep dive into this topic, visit one of my favourite blogs – Wait But Why.