According to the online publication Business Insider, the average person works over 1,800 hours per year and almost 90,000 total hours during their lifetime. That might be low because if you figure 40 hours per week for 50 weeks, it comes to 2,000 hours without even counting commuting time. An even more depressing bit of information is that nearly 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs. So if we spend over a third of our life working and another third of our life sleeping, that leaves only one third to do everything else. Is that enough for a happy, purposeful and rewarding life? Maybe. If not, perhaps there is a better way to live by right-sizing your work in ways that help to create a SMART life 365.
Before I go very far it is probably good to define what I mean by work. While not everyone in our culture thinks of work in the negative, a huge number of Americans dread getting up on a Monday morning to do just that. According to the Judeo-Christian Bible, work comes after “the fall.” And, for the majority of people in the U.S. at least, the ultimate goal for working 40 to 50 years is retirement. According to Salary.com, 70% of us work to live, while only 19% live to work. So unfortunately for most of us, work is something we have to do just to survive, rather than want to do because we can.
Of course that doesn’t mean that there is no benefit from our work even if we do it because we must. While the basic premise is that we exchange our time for resources in order to live, work also provides us with meaning and purpose. As Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. says in his book, 30 Lessons for Living, work is “the way we gain a sense of self-worth and achievement, and a means of making connections with others. It is also a component of our core identity.” Writers at Salary.com report than the ultimate goal is for everyone to be in a job that fulfills them both personally and professionally. But is that true? Again, is that the ultimate trade off for the hours that make up our life?
Gary Cutting in his editorial for the NY Times writes, “We’re ambivalent about work because in our capitalistic system it means work-for-pay (wage-labor), not for its own sake.” In his article, Cutting quotes several leading philosophers who believe that the purpose of work is to give us the leisure and freedom to enjoy activities that will lead to greater happiness and “a good life.” Unfortunately as Cutting goes on to say, “But capitalism as such is not interested in quality of life. It is essentially a system for producing things to sell at a profit, the greater the better.” And in order to keep selling things, people are being raised and trained to work hard and then buy more, more and more of whatever is being sold, “regardless of its relevance to human flourishing.”
The good news is that there is a way to avoid the slavery of a mechanistic and consumer culture. I call it right-sizing your work or occupation. The best thing about rightsizing is that it allows you to be in complete control of your own life, rather than following the dictates of society, other people around you, or your own guilt or misguided expectations. Here are three ways to make the hours you spend at work (whatever that work might be), life enhancing rather than life depleting.
#1 Never take any job just for the money. In the book, 30 Lessons For Living—Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. says, that the number one piece of advice offered by his interviewees in the area of work was this simple caution. After asking over 1,000 people from 65 to 100 to share their wisdom, the overwhelming consensus was that “it’s vastly preferable to take home less in your paycheck and enjoy what you are doing rather than live for the weekends and your three weeks vacation a year.” Pillemer calls these seniors “experts” and says, “If doing what you love requires living with less…that’s a no brainer.”
But the experts aren’t the only ones who agree with that statement. Research study after study is showing that once our basic needs are met we won’t be any happier working harder or making more money. Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University wrote a book about it, and popular career coach Penelope Trunk insists, “More money does not make more happiness.” Ultimately, as Richard Easterlin, professor of economics at University of Southern California says, “How much pleasure people get from their job is independent of how much it pays.”
But why don’t more of us get this message? What parent would encourage their child to be a prostitute or a drug dealer for the money? What wife or husband would ask their partner to sell their soul just for a bigger paycheck? Yet isn’t that what any of us do if we encourage those we love to work at jobs they hate just so we can buy more stuff? Until we are willing to give a happy and fulfilling life a higher priority than the money that any job generates, this will not change.
#2 Find a job that fulfills you and makes you happy. Seek and find a job that fits your personality, talents and life goals—and never lose faith that one is out there. The good news is that many younger people today are holding out for fulfilling jobs and switching when it makes sense. In older generations, far too many stuck it out in dead end jobs they hated for their entire lives, just to bring home the money. As Pillemer’s “experts” suggest, “the tragedy isn’t finding ourselves in the wrong job; it’s staying there.”
Over and over these experts of advancing age reported that even when it was extremely challenging, finding something you love to do was still the best way to experience a happy life. Overwhelmingly they believe we all spend way too much of our short lifetimes working, to ever stay stuck in jobs we hate.
Of course the “experts” were also quick to say that if you find yourself in a job that isn’t completely satisfying, part of the responsibility to make it rewarding falls on your shoulders. They were adamant that we should see work challenges as, “learning experiences and to take advantage of any opportunity to gather knowledge about an industry or occupation.” And then go from there.
Another primary key to making a job something that fulfills a person and provides meaning is to seek “autonomy” as much as possible. Because autonomy is one of the most important attributes of a satisfying occupation, finding ways to act on one’s own as much as possible usually leads to greater happiness. That’s why becoming self-employed, regardless of the amount of money to be made, is usually so desirable.
#3 Learn to think of money as something you trade for your “life energy” and time. This powerful idea was made popular by the book Your Money Or Your Life written by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin in 1992. This book recommends that people become extremely clear about exactly how much they have, how much they make, and precisely how much time they trade to get that money. 99 times out of 100 people will discover that the time they spend working (and getting ready to work, traveling to work, and coming home from work) absorb far more of their life energy than they realize. That’s when the book offers 101 tips to help people learn to make changes, prioritize their time, and spend their money more efficiently for maximum enjoyment.
While this might seem to be a strange strategy to rightsize your work, I think it’s critical for us each to closely examine and recognize how valuable our time and “life energy” is. Most of us will admit that time is more precious than money but our lives often don’t reflect that truth. Only after we become more aware can we make better choices every single day.
The book Your Money or Your Life offers three basic and timeless questions about our work and our lives that we can ask ourselves to stay on track:
- Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?
- Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
- How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living?
Of course there are lots of other suggestions I could offer to explain how to rightsize your work, but until these three ideas are embraced the others are only Band-Aids for an overall chronic condition. Fortunately my husband Thom and I both feel the same way about work so we have made it a focus in our lives—and yes, our work is rightsized for us. Not only do we have a profoundly happy and content life, we don’t struggle for money like we did when we were younger. Once we incorporated the above suggestions into both our actions and our perceptions, the rest followed.
If work takes up around one third of a person’s life, then we all owe it to ourselves to make that time and experience as meaningful, fulfilling and yes, happy, as possible. We owe that to our partners and our children as well. The “experts” in Pillemer’s books all agreed saying, “There’s no harsher penalty than to wake up and go to work at a job you don’t like.” By consistently stopping and asking ourselves, what is most important to me, and where do I want spend my precious time, talents and life energy, we will then be guided to a path that is both happy and SMART, 365.
Question: What is one thing you have done to “rightsize” your work? Please share in the comments below.