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!