Live to work or work to live?

I have to start this blog with a big shout-out to Mr. Peanut Belly, one of my Mixer family. We got into a conversation in a chat recently about the difficult role of managing employees and that spurned the thought for this post.

In past generations (and I suppose some still today), people tended to measure their worth by the value of their career. It was as though each rung of the ladder you climbed became a signal of your worth; the higher you climbed, the more valuable you became. And that may have been true to the corporation for whom you worked.

But who suffered when you made climbing the corporate ladder your first priority? Did it mean having to spend more time away from your family? Did it mean not having the time or energy to spend with friends? And what about you? Did it mean you never had time to “stop and smell the roses”? Was there a voice in your head telling you “if I just do this much more, then I’ll be a better person”?

I was raised in a family of two parents with strong work ethics. My dad traveled during the week and spend many weekend teaching flying. Yes, it allowed us to have a nicer house – certainly not an extravagant one – and buy clothes at name-brand stores. My mother would be sick and go to work, saying “Why stay home when I feel bad when I can go to work and make everybody miserable?” Add to that the fact that she was a self-made martyr (I learned that trait from her as well), and you can pretty much surmise that sick days were for wimps.

My brothers and I all developed strong work ethics. Initially, we were all initiated into the “live to work” lifestyle. Eventually, my younger brother and I started to break a bit away from that. Both of us realized that working at a job we hated was as far from being happy as it could be. We both still stayed true to the strong work ethic, but eventually moved on to jobs we got some joy out of doing. I bounced around for a bit, finally sticking my toes into the waters of the lodging industry. I entered the water planning to stay for just a year, wanting to have a better sense of what goes on behind a hotel’s front desk. At the end of the year, I’d secured a different job and gave my notice. My supervisor, and those further up the chain, decided they didn’t want to lose me. The wonder of feeling needed by an employer was something I’d never experienced before and ended up putting me in that industry for over 20 years.

I moved around from hotel to hotel during that time, finding that the position I enjoyed the most was sales and marketing. But a bit of a slump in the country’s economy also meant that we were one of the most expendable employees. And that happened to me.

After some time helping out a friend part-time with the accounting for her business, I finally found another sales job with a hotel organization I knew and trusted. I really enjoyed that job, until they brought a new manager in. We butted heads from day one. About a year later, as I was hanging onto the last knot in my rope, a colleague offered me a position in managing a bed and breakfast (just down the street from the hotel where I was working). I took it! I spent the next five years working crazy hours (on salary, of course), sometimes not getting a day off for many weeks in a row – – even thinking about time off on a weekend was taboo!

In none of my 20+ years in this industry did I live to work. I enjoyed much of the time I spent engaged in it, and got some opportunities for both professional and personal growth, but I never saw myself as increasing in value by how much I gave to my employer. My joy always came from growing the business, helping it reach its potential, and giving the ultimate in guest services experiences to everyone who came through the doors. I earned the B&B several awards for customer service, enjoyed reading the reviews of guest experiences, and patted myself on the back for increasing occupancy and revenue. I didn’t get much in the way of acknowledgement from the supervisor nor the owner, but I knew I was doing the very best that I could!

But, in all that time, I didn’t really work to live, either. Sure, I earned enough salary to pay bills, have an occasional splurge, save a little. I didn’t spend on vacations because I never had the time off to go anywhere! I didn’t spend on experiences because I had neither the time nor the energy.

In all of that history about myself, my point is this: We all need to find a balance between living to work and working to live. We need some of that “living to work” drive so that we become valuable employees and always strive to do our best. But we need to get past the mindset that our value is measured in our careers and the money we make from them. Our value lies in the person we are and how we present ourselves to others. This presentation needs to come from our minds, hearts and soul. If you can’t find that, what do you have to say after your dissertation about your job is finished??

But we cannot forget that we need to work to live. Living has financial costs associated with it, and we need to make sure we are responsible enough to cover those costs. Once you’ve covered the necessary expenditures, it’s okay – possibly even necessary – to treat yourself now and then. Maybe it’s a dinner out, or a vacation, a little trinket, whatever. I’m NOT suggesting you spend whatever is left on some vast indulgence! But I learned the very hard way that we all need a little indulgence now and then in our self-care program. Learn a lesson I learned the hard way: Find a balance between work and life so that both get your best!

Perfecting Procrastination

People who know me will probably tell you that I’m NOT a procrastinator, the proof of which is that, until this year, my Christmas gift shopping was usually (or mostly) done by this time of the year. I’ve always done that for two major reasons: 1.) I consider myself a thoughtful gift giver and when I see something I’m sure the recipient will like, I buy it while I can, and 2.) It’s more helpful to my budget to spread the costs of gifts throughout the year as opposed to a big chunk being spent in a short period of time.

I recognize that much of my reason for not procrastinating has to do with the stress of trying to get things done at the last minute. I also have perfectionist tendencies, and so the thought of having something be less than perfect is also overwhelming.

Anything you read from a psychology perspective will tell you that procrastination is a “bad” thing; in fact, there is a myriad of self-help books to overcome it. But is getting something done too soon any worse than waiting until the last minute?

Each year, as the Christmas season comes closer, it’s impossible not to see people out and about doing their shopping. There is a buzz, an excitement, as they go from store to store, searching for gifts for their loved ones. Not liking crowds, I prefer not to be a part of that. (No matter when I do my shopping, much of it is done online.) But you see them, bundled up in coats, scarves and gloves – some with lists in hand – carrying bags with different store names on them. And when you see them returning to their cars, laden with those bags, their sense of accomplishment is almost palpable. The thought they have put into their choices and the joy they anticipate when the gifts are opened are very much forefront in their minds, and it adds to the excitement of the holidays.

On the other hand, they are at the mercy of what the stores they visit have in stock, at the mercy of the ticket price on each item, not to mention at the mercy of their credit card merchants when those big-amount statements arrive just after the holidays.

I, on the other hand, found gifts throughout the year – was able to wait for a sales price, added only a little bit at a time to my credit card statements, and didn’t have to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find what I perceived as the perfect gift. It’s definitely far less stressful than waiting until the last few weeks!

But while there is no stress, there is also no chance to get caught up in that buzz and excitement, no sense of accomplishment when a much larger task is finished in a short period of time. There is also the risk of buying what you deem as the “perfect gift” for someone only to find a different “perfect gift” for the same person and, either blowing your budget or possibly regretting that you didn’t wait longer before that first purchase.

So I’ve decided that my new mission in life will be perfecting procrastination. I have been experimenting a little here and there with procrastinating small tasks, and I’ve still managed to get things done well and on time. (The meditation I spoke about in a previous post has come in handy with this!) And yes, I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment I felt when that happened! I believe there must be a balance, and that, with some tasks, the stress of putting them off produces more negativity than the positive emotions of successfully procrastinating. The art will be discovering the stress versus excitement with each task in front of me, as well as its value if I should procrastinate too long and not accomplish it as perfectly as I would like.

And yes, I have purchased two Christmas presents – but just this month – and I do not feel pressured by not being done by now, as I’m known to be.

I do think it’s okay to procrastinate as long as one finds a balance!

So which do you prefer – getting things done with plenty of time to spare or feeling the adrenaline rush when you’ve procrastinated until the last minute?