Live to Work; Work to Live

I think at some point, we all have to come to a decision in our life about certain priorities in regards to our lifestyle and workplace… live to work, or work to live. One of these, it seems, must always come before the other. We can either choose to live for our work, where our lifestyle, location, and family must conform to the demands of our job. Or, we can choose to set a way of life, and find an occupation that supports that life. There are some of us who choose our career, or because of our career we have no other option. Others of us don’t really care what we do, as long as it supports our life. Police and lawyers don’t have much room outside of their work, and snowboarders and surfers are notorious for holding temporary jobs that allow them to spend more time riding waves of water or snow.

I don’t think that one is better than the other, and I don’t think that one has a better chance of attaining financial happiness. I do think, however, that whatever choice is made will drastically impact ones finances, as it alters ones’ priorities.

Live to Work

There’s a certain type of personality that always seems to be driven. It doesn’t matter whether they are running a multi-million dollar multinational corporation, or the neighbourhood bake sale, they are internally motivated to get things done. Not only do they want to accomplish things, they want to do it quickly, efficiently, and on budget. If this type of person is suddenly without a goal, completion date, or finish line, then they will find one and make it their next project. Often associated with the type A  personality, this type of person can very easily become a workaholic whose very existence can be boiled down to their profession. They live to work.

Following your career might take you places that you normally wouldn’t go. It may require that you move across town, or across the country, or even to Germany or New Zealand. It may ask you to work odd hours, or long hours. It may ask you to be away from your family for weeks, or months at a time. However, this may have been something that you have been dreaming about since you were a child. It may be something that is a temporary but necessary step towards reaching your dream job, and so you make the sacrifice of living where you want, or raising your kids where you want, because that is what is required of you.

Work to Live

Another way to live is to find something in your life that you love more than anything, and make sacrifices in order to have it. This can be anything from being a stay at home mom, to travelling the world, to living in a ski resort or in Paris. If your life’s main priority is to stay at home and raise your kids in a good neighbourhood, then you won’t mind staying at a lower paying job if it means you get to stay in the city that you want your children to grow up in. It might not be the best choice financially, but it is the best choice for you because you are working only to support your life, not for the sake of working. If you want to travel the world, then you might decide to get a job planting trees or fighting fires. Difficult jobs that require incredible hard work and sacrifice over the short term – but they provide you with enough money in order to spend 6 months in Thailand. Working the fast food counter at the ski resort might not be your life long desire – but going riding for 150 days in one season might be, so you are working in order to support your chosen lifestyle.

There’s no one way that is better than the other. One might sound more “fun” than the other, but one might provide more financial stability for the future. Ideally, we all can find that one job that fulfils every desire of our lives, one that perfectly balances your work with your life so that you can lead healthy and happy lives. There are few of us that are able to find that job, though many have tried and failed.

So, if you were forced to choose, which would come first? Would you give up your job for a better lifestyle? Would you give up your home’s location for the chance at a better career? Which is more important to you – and do your finances agree with that decision?

Written by Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

36 Responses to Live to Work; Work to Live

  1. When I finished my MBA (back in 2009), I have decided I wanted to live a different life.

    I just want to live and find a way to have my passions to pay for my living. I’m not 100% there yet but I am able to work 4 days a week and pass more time on my online venture (which is my passion) in order to grow my income.

    Live to work is sad since you have so many things to discover in life besides your job.

    Work to live is even worst since you see your work as something “necessary” to keep what you have (house, vacation, etc).

  2. I love my career, but it is not my life! When I retire from teaching, I must replace it with something else that is intellectually stimulating. I must have the feeling of accomplishment. I expect to fill my time doing things I enjoy like blogging, cycling, traveling, volunteering and mentoring.

  3. My career is important to me, and I think it’s vital for all of us to do work that we at least enjoy. It’s going to be a big use of your time, might as well spend that time doing something you enjoy. That said, work is definitely not everything to me. Family, health, and fun are extremely important.

  4. I am satisfied with what I do for a living however I find myself working longer hours each passing year. I have to sometimes take a step back and remember that family should come first, even before a larger paycheck. I believe a good balance of both work and social/personal, makes you a better and more rounded person.

    Very good post.

  5. I am going from 8-5 to 6-3 work schedule, hoping this will help with my work-life balance. I find that a lot of companies tell you that you’ll work until 5 maybe a bit later but it always seems that it’s long than you expect. I know I’ve been at work until 10 or 11 pm some nights…it just puts too much stress in your life and you may not even realize it.

  6. I work to many hours myself. You try to find the right balance. Teaching all day and then graduate school at night, is rewarding but, I’m busier than i’d like. Can you help me find that happy medium?

  7. It’s been my experience (in my 62 years), that most people don’t ask the question or make the choice.

    For most people, where they end up is determined by random events. For instance, where you live for most of us is determined by the country you are born in and to a lessor extent by the state or city. Where you end up in a career can be determined in a large part by what opportunities you find when you start out looking for a job for the first time.

    Sometimes we have to (or feel we have to) make the best of our situation (what we do, where we are and the life we end up leading).

    I admire those who DO ask the question and live a purposeful life based on their own proactive decisions.

  8. @Sean – I am in the same boat, a teacher who is trying to do graduate studies at the same time (while also coaching sports). I find that I can focus much better during the summer and spring breaks (Christmas break is way too busy for me).

    As a young adult I find my generation much more concerned with work-life balance as opposed to maximizing income, what is the general opinion on this?

  9. I’ve been doing my job for some time and I know couldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in what I do. I guess it’s always about setting the course, setting your priorities and finding your own way. In a way, we all share the same goal – we want to be happy with our lives. Sometimes it means chasing your dreams, but I mostly it’s about building on what you have in your hands. Do what you feel is right. It might sound like a bunch of clichés, but the funny thing about clichés is that they’re often very true.

  10. The problem with “living to work” is that you can’t work forever. When you identify yourself with your job (which is what happens when you live to work), retirement or a layoff means effectively the end of your life.

    That alone should tell you what’s wrong with getting too wrapped up in your career.

  11. The operative word here is “at somepoint” but when is that somepoint? We start with great ideals but few get as far as living it. I surely hope more people will realize it’s a means to an end but not the end itself unless your passion is truly what you do for a living. That’s completely understandable as well. Now that’s truly living it

  12. I think I had experienced both in my life. I live to work when I started my working but didnot have the other option at that time (new immigrant, student loan etc). Even though I worked long hours, I really enjoyed it. But now I don’t enjoy my full time job that much. I don’t think I will 12 hr days continually even if they double my pay. I work to live. I have lot of other interests out side work and those interests(gardening, travelling, blogging etc) have become very important part in my life and I enjoy them more than my job.

  13. Sadly we humans have a tendency to try and divorce life and work. Workaholics change their life into their work with (very) negative consequences. Irresponsible people, trapped in the nostalgia of life’s former simplicity can try and separate themselves from work (and responsibilities ) all together and just end up destroying their life. The trick is to find the balance somewhere in the middle.

  14. One person’s definition of balance is incredibly different from another.

    The reality is there is no right definition. We determine what is the right mixture.

    I believe in one simple premise – If you don’t like your life as it is, change it.

  15. The ideal is obviously to do what you love. If you can earn doing something that you love then you’re way ahead of the game – you can live your life celebrating your passions and earn your living at the same time. unfortunately this is not always possible, but regardless of whether you live to work or work to live, you need to find room in your life to both earn and enjoy.

  16. Nice post!

    There’s a saying out there…”there’s a fine line between pain and pleasure”.

    Personally, I find I need challenges in life to feel good about the way things are going and to keep my mind active, but at the same time I believe that if you can find something that you truly enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work.

  17. If you love what you do, but have to put in lots of hours, you would say that you have a balance. But if you don’t love what you do, its tough. Everyone has a great purpose, we all just need to dog to figure out what it is.

  18. @Kevin Yu. You’re lucky one. Most of the people, specially nowadays are as said before in the post, are just working to live.

  19. The Nation’s Premier Forensic Loan Audit Wholesaler and Forensic Loan Auditor Certification Training for Attorneys and Professionals specializing in Mortgage Modification and Real Estate Law.

  20. Both can have upsides, both can have downsides. If you chose money over time now, but are able to “retire” early might it be worth it? Of course is the extra time away from your family ever worth it.

    I have job that I enjoy and the hours give me freedom to enjoy coaching and family. It provides a good income so I really haven’t had to choose. But, if I had to, I believe I would pick less money for a more enjoyable job.

  21. I have actually taken the plunge and given up my job for a better lifestyle – thankfully that’s because I earn enough money online… but I built that lifestyle.

    Lifestyle is far more important than killing yourself working. You need to enjoy life while you can

  22. I am a type A person and live to work. When I have “down time” I start projects! Relaxing is difficult for me and I constantly work at including it in my. I strive to find a balance between living to work and working to live because I believe happiness and to some degreen success lie in that balance.

  23. This age long debate between work and life is best had by seasoned proffessional and trilled seekers not yound unemployed graduate without any career.

  24. There are different sides of life and we have to take decisions at that time. Many time in life we have to sacrifice our wishes and choose the one which we don’t like that much and have to love what we do. The rare case is to do what we love….

  25. I love the work / life balance of having an online business. I run an internet marketing company and can work / live / play at any time I choose – all from the comfort of my own home.

    I can’t recommend enough having a business that gives you the opportunity to be your own boss.

    I really enjoy what I do, so I guess my take on it is that I live to work to live!

    Cheers,
    Tom

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