Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

work to live, live to work

Anna, Let’s Sandbox’s proofreader, and I were exchanging late Saturday night emails (which isn’t unusual for us). Among discussing commas and tenses, we were also casually talking about the previous week. I had asked Anna what she was planning for the long weekend, to which she answered:

‘I don’t have any real differentiation between weekends and weekdays, really,’ and then went on to list her work commitments and leisure plans.

Intending to reply only briefly, I realised this was a topic worth exploring:

‘I guess it’s ok when there’s no distinction between weekdays and weekends as long as you enjoy what you do. Maria Popova ( talks a lot about how she doesn’t see work as separate from life… To be honest, with my teaching business and Let’s Sandbox, I don’t feel the need to separate life from work because I enjoy it and come alive doing it. Even if I can barely make the ends meet doing it… (Oh my, I feel I’ve begun writing a blog post here! It’s probably a good topic!)’

This got me thinking about how we, as a society, see work and seek a balance between work and life. The common question which arises is: do you live to work or work to live?

Most of us see work as separate from our life, something ‘we have to do’, something we are forced to allocate time for at the expense of our enjoyment and happiness.

So I dug out exactly what it was that Maria Popova had to say about work/life balance in her interview for the Guardian:

You spend 450 hours a month keeping your website alive: that’s a 15-hour day. How do you relax? What do you do for kicks?

People always talk about work/life balance, but I find that a tragic concept. I have no separation between work and my life. I don’t see what I do as work. There’s no greater joy than, as Richard Feynman put it, the pleasure of finding things out.

In another interview, Popova said a little more on the subject:

But mostly, I don’t have a separation between work and life; I don’t believe in the idea of work/life balance. The people in my personal life are also very much entrenched in what I do professionally and creatively.

work to live, fields, bag, holidayCorresponding with Anna, I realised that my goal is to sort out my endeavours – both artistic and entrepreneurial – so that the divide between my work and life becomes as seamless as possible, even if this takes some time to achieve.

Seth Godin, American author and entrepreneur, offers a provocative piece of advice:

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.

Godin has strong views about what the difference between working and having a job isHe talks a lot about the industrial economy, where a worker used to do a repetitive, mind-numbing task, and the connection economy where your work is art (even if you don’t consider yourself to be an artist):

The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed.

Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.

The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job.

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.

I call the process of doing your art ‘the work’. It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.

The job is not the work.

sky, calling, follow your bliss, live to workI guess the question ‘do you live to work or work to live’ becomes less important when what you do is art – and I mean ‘art’ in Seth Godin’s terms – as then you feel less of a need to start living because you already are truly living (and feeling alive) while working. Eckhart Tolle calls this state awakened and enthusiastic doing. In simpler terms, it is probably what we call following our calling and our bliss.


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