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 about work in itself. 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 answering the question honestly and accurately for yourself is critical to making intelligent career choices—not to mention to your ultimate happiness.

More and more emphasis is placed on a health work-life balance in the millennium.

Those Who Live to Work

Individuals whose lives center on their work or careers are living to work. Achievement in their professions and doing what they do for a living is a major source of satisfaction in their lives.

Money might or might not be part of the motivation for these people. In some cases, achieving huge levels of pay is coveted more as a means of keeping score and proving relative worth compared to other people than it is for the income itself.

Those Who Work to Live

These people view their jobs or careers largely as toil. 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 are avidly watching the calendar inch closer to Friday and time off.

Their jobs or careers are a means to an end. They're not the end in itself. Some of these people try to cut corners, gaining maximum pay for minimum amount of effort. Others do indeed take great pride in their work and put great effort into doing their jobs well, but their jobs aren't the centers of their lives.

The Statistics

In the end, it comes down to a mentally and physically healthy work-life balance regardless of the root cause for putting in working hours each week. You need time to take care of personal issues, and you should dedicate some hours to personal pleasure—although those who live to work might argue that work is personal pleasure.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicates that 11% of employees among its member countries work 50 hours or more a week, whether out of necessity or for love of the job. About 15% of them were men, as opposed to 6% women.

The number is 11% for American workers as well, according to the OECD, matching the worldwide average. They devote about 60% of their days to personal time. That might sound like a whole lot, but it includes hours spent sleeping so this time isn't entirely dedicated to pursuing outside interests.

Know Yourself

It's critical to understand whether you're fundamentally alive to work or if you're a work-to-live type of person. It will allow you to develop realistic expectations about yourself, and to choose career paths and employers accordingly.

For the most part, people who live to work are high achievers who excel in demanding careers such as:

The same tends to be true of people who rise to high levels of management.

When Circumstances Dictate the Answer

The answer for a given individual is often based on circumstances. Examples abound of individuals who lose their native passion for work because they can't find an adequate position or sufficient pay in their preferred fields of endeavor.

They often settle for jobs in other fields strictly for the compensation. Meanwhile, just as many examples exist of individuals who used to work to live, but start living to work after career changes. These changes might be prompted by retirement or by reaching a level of savings that greatly relaxes the imperative to follow a career primarily because it pays well.


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