Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Work vs. Life?

Representative of wisdom, self knowledge and openness

The new year is always an interesting time. People seem to be energised. Adults in the workforce almost act like students on their first days back to school. Things seem hopeful and fresh. Possibility is in the air.

A few weeks or a month later and energy generally wanes. Winter is dragging and there's a feeling of disappointment hanging over most people. Like they were cheated out of something because this year is turning out just like last year and the year before that and the year before that. Work continues to drudge along and your boss is still a numpty and you still have that really anal co-worker, that really lazy co-worker or that really peculiar co-worker who smells sort of odd and keeps staring at you.

Meanwhile you're busting with ideas, feeling your energy being crushed by a job which you may be good at, but which does not fulfill your wants or needs. Work/life balance seems to come up a lot in conversation. How do you balance the hours you spend in the office with the hours you want to spend writing, drawing, painting, travelling, doing photography, acting etc? 

Personally I've always found the work/life argument a bit baffling. This is simply because I don't understand the separation of the two. It implies that 'work' is one plain of existence whilst 'life' is another and the two cannot co-exist. You're either working or you have a life.

What a dreadful thought. 

And yet, for so many this is entirely true. At work they are a different person. They function to fulfill a role, perform a job and at the end of the day they garner little satisfaction from their accomplishments. They work for someone, helping someone else achieve their goals or dreams, forsaking their own as 'whims' or 'flights of fancy'.

I used to be a victim of such thoughts. To me, unless I absolutely loved everything about the job I had which paid the bills, I felt I was purely exchanging my valuable time for money. This sort of thinking has a devastating effect. It can make a person feel like a shell, a robot there to perform a duty to keep the cogs of some larger machine going. It's dehumanizing and it makes perfect sense then why the idea of 'work' and 'life' being separate entities is such a widely held belief.

But work is a part of life. Life is all encompassing and work is not. Life is constant and what we do with ours - for work, for pleasure, for personal growth - is entirely up to us. Yes, I know that, to survive we generally need some sort of stable income. I'm not disputing this fact at all. But there is a way to look at work as part of your life and not a separate plain of existence where our personalities, dreams and talents need to be ignored or put onto a back burner.

How can this be done? No matter what you do for a living - cashier, administrator, sales assistant, personal assistant - there are little ways you can bring your talents and the things which give you joy into your job.

For example, I have a friend who is a textile artist who worked as a cashier for about a year. He purchased a small sketchbook that fit in his pocket and when things were slow he could easily pull it out and make little sketches or jot down ideas.

Another friend who was training to be a Spiritual Counsellor was working in administration at a charity. Until her training was done she couldn't start up her practice but in the mean time she was able to practice her communication skills because she answered the phones for the charity. Many of the callers were bereaved so it was a brilliant opportunity for her to get real life experience talking to people in distress.

For me learning is a huge part of my personality and what feeds my energy. I love discovering new skills and trying new things which is why, in any job I have, I seek out opportunities to get involved in different projects. I look for things which may be missing or which could use development or improvement. As a result I have been able to expand my administrative duties at my current place of work to include social media marketing and graphic design.

Every little bit helps but one of the key factors has also been changing the way I think about work. When possible I have brought my creativity, imagination and desire to learn to most jobs I've had. Occasionally I've had the sort of job where this flexibility didn't exist. In these cases I knew it was better for me to seek an alternative. Either way, the choice was mine. You can either look at work as a place where your life is put on hold, or you can look at work as yet another experience of life itself in which there are a multitude of opportunities for you to grow, learn and express yourself.


  1. What an interesting and timely post. I've just taken my business full-time and as such have more time than when I was working part-time and growing the business. I'm finding the time to be more creative, writing a blog about the change in lifestyle and also getting back to more photography, reading and drawing ... (my new blog is at http://librofulltime.wordpress.com )


  2. I've worked at places that were very restrictive and regulatory with regard to these things. Over here in New Brunswick, the easiest sector to get a job is in a call centre. Not all of them are equally strict, but in a place where they monitor every little detail about your computer use, expect you to follow either a strict script or call flow, and don't allow paper or pens at pods, it's hard for a creative person to get to use any of that time to indulge that aspect of themselves. The job can be so stressful that by the end of the day you're just too burnt out to do anything else.

    I've come to realize how call centre work is really not so much a great fit for my skills and interests. This is why I'm looking to change careers and start over in a new city.

  3. Thanks for your comments!
    Yes, Bendouwsma, that's why it's also so important to know when a job isn't going to be worth it at all. There is the 'Good enough' job, where you aren't necessarily doing what is ideal but you still have opportunities for self expression. But don't get it confused with the dangerous job. Your health should always come first, and that includes your mental and spiritual health. It's so important to recognize when a job is detrimental to your well being. After that the scary part can be make that change in careers. Something could be really terrible and unhealthy but at least it's familiar.

    Good for you for recognising that you can make the change you need!


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