Working for a living or living to work?

  • June 5, 2017

By Byron Moore

Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, May 28, 2017.

Q: I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m in my mid 50s and my adult son just came to me and told me he feels like he’s lost his father. We used to go fishing and hunting all the time, but then work picked up and I really did give up everything else to focus on that. His words cut me pretty deep, but I know he’s right. So how does a workaholic like me slow down enough to live life, but still work hard enough to make enough to live on and save?

A: It sounds like you’re figuring out why you are alive.

living to workIt’s a good idea to ask yourself on a regular basis, “Am I working to earn a living or working to earn meaning?” You sound as if you’re at one of those inflection points in your life. If so, here are a few things to consider:

You aren’t promised tomorrow, so make the most of today. We’ve all heard of someone who worked and slaved all their life at a job they hated just so that they could retire and enjoy their sunset years…only to die two or three weeks into that retirement.

If you knew you’d die one year after you retire, how would that impact the way you make choices today? Live that way.

Work and leisure can cooperate or compete. We all know how work competes with leisure. After all, you can’t go fishing on work time (unless you’re entertaining clients or test driving bass boats – dream job!).

But work also has a point of diminishing returns, when a desperately frenetic pace leaves you feeling beat up and burned out. Learning the art of knowing when to call it a day (or a week, or a quarter) and walk away from your work can help you be more productive in the time you do devote to work.

More money can do a lot for you, but it can’t make you happy. Sure the opposite is also true – poverty can’t make you happy. But if you’re realizing that your devotion to work is bordering on workaholism, changes are in order if you ever want to be really happy.

Are there creative solutions available? I know a man who bought a fishing camp with some of the money he would have otherwise invested. He didn’t do it because he thought recreational real estate was a better investment than something else – he did it because he wanted the return that came with investing in his family. And who knows – he might just make money on the camp too one day. But that wasn’t his driving motive.

Quality of life can happen while building quantity of money. It just may take a bit longer. Let’s say $1,000,000 is the number you feel you need to be financially set. Further, suppose we calculate that if you keep working like you’re working, you can get there in ten more years.

What if we could look into our crystal ball and see what would happen if you chose to cut back a bit and invest a good portion of your life and energies to spending time with those you love doing things you enjoy? If we could see that the same journey to $1,000,000 would take you fifteen years, rather than ten, would that be OK?

Or is getting to the $1,000,000 five years sooner worth losing your family over?

In the 2016 movie The Founder, Michael Keaton portrays Ray Croc, the first CEO of the McDonalds Corporation. I have no idea if the movie is accurate, but it portrays Ray Croc as a soulless, calculating businessman who would do anything to get what he wanted, leaving a trail of broken relationships and broken promises in his wake.

I highly recommend it as a wakeup call to anyone who gets their meaning from their next business conquest, with no regard to the relational or moral consequences to follow.

At least in the movie, Croc made a lot of money but he was not a successful man.

As with so many things, balance is the key and thoughtfulness the starting point.

Make work and wealth your servants on your journey to a good life, not your masters that pretend to give your life meaning.

It is a promise they will break every time.

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