What It Means to Live to Work

Do You Work to Live or Live to Work?

Smiling businessman seated in office with panoramic view of city
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Some people are highly motivated to work. They live to work. Others work to survive. They work to live. There's no right or wrong answer as to which is best, but it is important to strike a healthy balance between the two. Figuring out whether you live to work or work to live will help you make intelligent career choices and keep an eye out for any potential imbalances that build.

Those Who Live to Work

Individuals whose lives center on their work or careers are living to work. Professional achievements are a major source of satisfaction in their lives. Even just completing a workday brings these people a great sense of joy and accomplishment.

There is a difference between deriving pleasure from work and deriving pleasure from money. That's not to say money can't be one of the many reasons why someone might love working. In some cases, people who live to work see income as a way of keeping score and proving their relative worth compared to other people. Therefore, it isn't so much about the income, as it is about how they perceive the income reflects on their work.

Those Who Work to Live

Others view their jobs or careers largely as toil—something that stands in the way of what they want to do. Their singular purpose is to earn the money necessary to support themselves and their families. Their real interests lie elsewhere. These are the folks who eagerly watch the clock tick closer to quitting time.

That's not to say that these workers don't take pride in their work. Rather, their jobs or careers are a means to an end. Sure, some will look for maximum pay for minimal effort, but many work just as hard as those who live to work. The difference is that, while they may take pride in the work they do, they take greater pride in other aspects of their lives—be it family, hobbies, volunteer work, or religious devotion.

Getting the Balance Right

Regardless of why you're working, it's important to strike a healthy work-life balance. You need time to take care of personal issues, and you should dedicate some hours to personal pleasure. You need to be productive and make a living, as well, or else you risk falling into cycles of depression and economic hardship.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 11% of employees surveyed around the world work 50 hours or more per week. U.S. employees line up with the global average—11% of American workers report working 50 hours or more a week. In Turkey, 33% of workers reported at least a 50-hour workweek, followed by 29% of workers in Mexico, and 27% of workers in Colombia.

Globally, full-time workers devote 63% of their day to personal time. That might sound like a lot, but "personal time" includes the time you need to sleep. So if your free time comes out to 15 hours of the day, you have to decide how much free time you want, and how much sleep you need. It's impossible to say how many of those surveyed live to work and how many work to live, but those personality traits may affect how they perceive their time at work and home.

Know Yourself

It's important to develop a keen sense of what kind of worker you are so that you can watch for any work-life imbalances. You can also use your personality type to guide you into conducive work situations. A person who works to live, for instance, may prefer flexible hours. A person who lives to work, on the other hand, may enjoy workplaces where they collaborate with colleagues who are equally as excited about the work.

Knowing yourself will come in handy if circumstances ever change your attitude. There's no shortage of examples of individuals who lose their native passion for work because they can't find an adequate position or sufficient pay in their preferred fields. They often settle for jobs in other fields strictly for the compensation. If you usually live to work, but have had a change of heart, you can reassess your situation and try to rekindle your love based on what you know about your working style.

Meanwhile, just as many examples exist of individuals who used to work to live, but started living to work after career changes. These changes might be prompted by an exciting new position or personal revelation. Individuals experiencing this change can try to understand how their outlooks changed and build on the positive aspects of their new love for work.

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