Working to live vs. living to work

by Paul Goodchild on May 4, 2009

This isn’t a new concept by any means.  The idea of working to live is one that we’re all well aware of but never really, really give the attention it deserves.

Are you living to work?  Or are you just working to survive?

When you watch mainstream news, or read the newspapers about the terrible things going on, and about poverty stricken lands in particular, do you silently murmur gratitude that it’s not you – that you have been blessed and spared such a terrible fate?  You’re not ‘poor’ afterall – you have a decent job, a nice house and maybe even a car or two.

You have a decent job? What does that mean?  Do you get up at the crack of dawn every day, throw some crappy cereal or toast down your gullet, rush out the door to catch the 1hr train journey to the office, only to spend the next 8~9hrs of your life at a job that doesn’t remotely inspire you?

Every day?  What is decent about that?

Perhaps you’re different.  Maybe you love your work and you find true fulfilment from it, because it deeply resonates with who you are; it taps into your passions and allows you to express yourself creatively.  If this is the case, then you’re one of the lucky few and you probably will find no value from what I’m about to say. Alternatively…

What is working to live?

It really is exactly as it sounds, though you can substitute the word “live” for almost any number of things that falls under the category ‘things you have a deep passion for’.  This can be anything and oddly enough, I have discovered we often don’t readily know what gets us excited.

Perhaps you love travelling; or you enjoy knitting; or maybe writing is creative outlet you get excited about; perhaps giving back through volunteering and community work…

It can be anything!  But only you can discover it.

Ask yourself, is it what you have done today?

If the answer is no, then maybe you’re living to work.

An example – I enjoy travelling

Why am I writing about this today? I’m currently reading Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts.  ‘Vagabonding’ is fantastic read!  If any part of you enjoys travelling and exploring the world, then you must read this

There are many of us with the dream to travel, see the world and explore some of our surrounding, but we never make it.  What’s your excuse?

“Travel is for the young and the students who have no responsibilities.”

“I’ve got a job/house/mortgage/responsibilities/kids/a wife-husband-girlfriend-boyfriend/car/pets/family/parents to look after/etc”

There are as many excuses as there are places in the world to visit.  But when you strip away the excuses and get to the core of the problem, you’ll find that your mindset and the limitations you impose on yourself by your own thoughts are the culprits.

When you repeat a thought enough times it becomes a belief that can be difficult to shake.

In this example, I’m talking about travel because that’s important to me.  Travel is something I want to do, but for several years I put it off for many different reasons. Lately, as I try to push towards that goal of being able to travel freely I’ve been breaking down many of the excuses and beliefs I’ve held about several things including travel. The potential of what the future holds is really exciting.

Where is the sanity in working throughout the prime of our lives, always looking ahead to a distant future where our dreams will be realised.  How about having our dreams comes true now!  Think about it, when we retire and hope to live out our long-held aspirations, we will be in the least physically and mentally capable state of our whole lives.  Is that what we have to look forward to?

Please, think about that for a few moments… stop reading if you must.  This article will still be here when you return.

Why wait to do what you enjoy?

When you reach retirement age, and you’ve been working hard saving up your pension and other savings, you are then free to do all those things you have put off your whole life.  But the catch is that you are 50~70 years old which in itself isn’t a problem, but it means several things that are different compared to if you had pursued your passions earlier in your life.

Most obviously is your physical and mental vitality is likely going to be significantly less than when you are in your 20~40s.  Again, there’s no problem there, but wouldn’t you want to be doing the things you are most passionate for when you are fit, healthy and best positioned to pursue these dreams?  It’s never too late of course… never!  But the sooner the better.

Another aspect of this is that if for example your long standing passion is to go travelling, the amount you will learn about yourself, the world, and all manner of things I have yet to even discover myself, wouldn’t that be better learned and carried with you throughout your life, rather than nearer the end?  As I said before, it’s never too late, but all I’m doing here is comparing the advantages with taking this approach to life sooner rather than later.

So why wait?  Like I said above, there’s lots of reasons why you should hold off, but ultimately, these are just products of society’s expectations on you, and limits then imposed by your mind.

How to begin to change your life

Take a few moments as often as you can to ask yourself whether what you’re doing now is what you want to be really doing now.  Be honest with yourself.  I’m not suggesting you run out and quit your job, or stop your plans in their tracks, but just think about your situation and if what you’ve always wanted to do is something you’re doing or getting to do regularly enough.  If you find that you’re not getting to do what you want, consider how you can incorporate that into your current life more.  Perhaps the steps to take to get there aren’t so large, but perhaps they are.  Realising this now is better than waking up much later on to find you were sleeping through your life.

Once you can accept where you are right now, and see more clearly where you want to go, then working out the steps to get there is a much simpler process.  Consider time-lining and mapping out the steps, events and times you can proceed to implementing a possible path.  You might not like what some of these steps represent as they might indicate major upheavals in your life, but consider the alternative to not following through.  If you don’t follow through, when will you?  Will you ever, if not now?

You can trick yourself into thinking that when you get a bit more money, or more savings, or get laid off, or even win the lottery you can do it then, but you will be living like this perpetually for the rest of your life and you simply cannot be fulfilled that way.  Not living to the fullest of your potential and knowing it, either consciously or not, impacts your whole life and the people you connect with.  You owe it to yourself and those you love to live to your fullest potential.

This is written a little more off the cuff that previous articles, but I’ll post it anyway and tidy it up later.  I hope you get something from it.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather May 8, 2009 at 07:49

Live life for today and there will be no regrets left for tomorrow


Armando May 22, 2012 at 18:21

WOW!!! it’s a tuesday morning and I’m at work thinking about what i really want to be doing. something I’ve been thinking and telling my friends and family for a long time but always have “excuses” or get told I’m ungrateful or dumb to stop investing and working to do what i want to do in life. This article really hit the spot thank you sooo much!!! I will check out that book aswell


Paul Goodchild May 24, 2012 at 16:45

Hey Armando,
Thanks for writing… if this article does nothing else except raise the necessary questions in your mind about what you really want to be doing, then it’s a success. Perhaps you already you doing just exactly what you want to, but no harm in questioning it, right?

Glad you like the article, and I hope you get as much from the book as I have done!



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