Work to live, don't live to work

Okay, I love my work. Not just my current job, which is pretty great. But my work: the process of living and learning, and turning it into writing that will enlighten, inspire, and inform people. Finding the right words that will trigger an epiphany -- that light bulb that goes off in readers' heads and makes them say, "Oh yeah ... "

But there is also a lot more to my life. I'm not just talking about hobbies. I'm talking about the art of living -- enjoying the moment without any real purpose except to just enjoy it. It's hard to do for anyone who wants to achieve something -- when I was little, my dad used to always tell me, "Spend your time doing productive things." But to me, a relaxed, happy person is better off than an extremely productive, miserable one.

I wrote something on this sentiment recently: The concept that life is more than work, and that our decisions should keep that in mind. It's best if we can find work that melds the two: that allows us to enjoy the moment as we are working, or allows us to follow our passion. Creative work lends easily to this, but it could be anything that allows us to experience, as Salman Rushdie wrote, "an eff of the ineffable."

It always heartens me to find other writers who have tapped into this sentiment, and lately it seems to be in the zeitgeist. Here are some excerpts to possibly inspire you; click the links for more, and feel free to add your own excerpts in the comments below.

For a few years now, I've always turned to a commencement speech made by Anna Quindlen to remember what's important:


You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Then there's Tom Hodgkinson's fascinating new book, How to Be Idle. In a recent interview, here's what he had to say:
Part of this individualism is you feel this pressure that you alone have to conquer the world, and if you don't work all the hours God gives then you start feeling really guilty. If you can stop feeling guilty, then I think it's easier to start doing what you want to do. ... It wasn't exactly the old "do nothing all day," it was just that you appreciate the value of a good portion of doing nothing in your day -- for your mental health, your physical health, your relationships, that sort of thing. But also you appreciate the importance of getting out of this wage-slavery thing, more or less, and try to look after yourself, and that's the anarchist side of it.
And most recently, Mark Morford's column in the San Francisco Chronicle advocates rather aggressively to "quit your safe job and follow your path and infuriate the establishment":
We are designed, weaned, trained from Day 1 to be productive members of society. And we are heavily guilted into believing that must involve some sort of droning repetitive pod-like dress-coded work for a larger corporate cause, a consumerist mechanism, a nice, happy conglomerate. But the truth is, God, the divine true spirit loves nothing more than to see you unhinge and take risk and invite regular, messy, dangerous upheaval. This is exactly the energy that thwarts the demons of stagnation and conservative rot and violent, sanctimonious, bloody Mel Gibson-y religion, one that would have all our work be aimed at continuously patching up our incessant potholes of ugly congenital guilt, as opposed to contributing to the ongoing orgiastic evolution of spirit.
The basic sentiment here is, Work to Live, don't Live to Work. That is, if you can swing it, find work that makes you live, and enjoy life, better. If you can't, don't make it your life. You owe it to yourself to at least try.

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