I often forget what day it is. But this, I’ve decided, is a very good thing.
When I worked in a bank 34 years ago, I always knew what day it was – especially when it was a Monday or a Friday. Like most people, I dreaded the former and I wasted four days each week pining for the latter. The weekends served to anaesthetise my angst or stimulate my desire to live – depending on how the week had gone.
When I left to join the circus (a magazine publisher), I flipped the script. Weekends were still fun, but the weekdays were even funner! I’d landed face-first into my dream job – driving, photographing and writing about cars. It also showed me the value of doing what you love, even when the money is sh*t.
Work was no longer work and weekends were no longer an escape. They coalesced to form my life – a rich, exciting, unpredictable life. I would delight in calling my mum and saying, “Guess where I am today,” or “Guess what I’m doing right now!” From luxury cars and race tracks to five-star resorts and outback adventures, it was often too good to be true.
Unfortunately, I was still quite young and very stupid, and after seven years of riotous fun, I left my dream job to go and make more money. Or so I thought. Things soon went off the rails – to the point where I resorted to eating Corn Flakes with tap water and hiding from creditors. When my Holden Gemini blew a head gasket, I finally acknowledged my foolishness and went off to sell cars for a lovely family-owned Honda dealer.
It turned out I was quite good at it and I started to make real money for a change. I paid all my bills, bought myself an ’83 Honda Prelude (my first car with electric windows and pop-up lights – woohoo!), and life was good again.
In between that period (’93) and sometime around the millennium, I had nine different jobs – all but one of them soul-sucking, demoralizing, hateful experiences. So many times I sat in front of my TV, wine glass in hand, mourning the loss of those years with the car magazines. Trouble was, my spending had caught up with (overtaken) my earnings, and there was no way I could return to the fun job that paid like sh*t.
I was stuck. Stuck in a matrix of my own design. Actually, come to think of it, it wasn’t my design at all – I just stole it from the millions of others who’d made the same mistake – chasing money over happiness and then buying lots of crap to disguise the misery. Talk about a vicious circle.
Eventually, I stumbled upon a profound revelation. As long as I did something I hated – no matter how much money it paid – that thing was always going to be labelled with a four-letter word: WORK. If it was something I loved, it became a different four-letter word: LIFE.
When it was work, I craved balance. I wanted to work less and live more. I sought refuge in weekends and visualised the annual escape to somewhere warmer or cooler or quieter. I between, I indulged in other distractions like alcohol, food and retail therapy. Like my colleagues, I worked to live.
Over time, I learned this conundrum wasn’t limited to people like me. Rich people suffered, too. One of my earliest mentors, Peter Daniels, even wrote a book about it called ‘How to be Happy Though Rich.’ It turns out it’s possible to be miserable even when things look great on the surface. The reason is profoundly simple; it all comes down to your answer to the following question: “Why am I doing this?”
This question is the key to everything. If you’re working like a dog in a job you hate but it’s paying for your kid to get a good education – and that’s important to you – it’s still possible to be happy. Likewise, if you’re barely earning enough for gluten-free crackers but the job puts you on a path towards the job you want to do, you won’t stress about work/life balance.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs fall into this group. Succeeding on your own terms is a daunting task, and nearly every winner has a lengthy back story. Ask anyone who’s made it up the mountain and they’ll tell you the same things: Do the work. Be patient. Don’t give up. Show up every single day – especially when you don’t feel like it.
Those who are committed to their dreams never talk about balance. It’s all one melting pot called LIFE. They know that each aspect of their life serves the other – their relationships, their physical health, their mental health, their work – it’s all one thing. Another one of my earliest influences, Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones, said this: “There are three things that’ll take turns saving your life: your work, your family, and… music.” I suspect Charlie believed work/life balance was a myth dreamed up by 9-to-5 types in grey suits. He believed we could embrace all of it passionately – allowing each aspect of our lives to dominate in turn.
So my thoughts on this are:
- Work hard, but not too much. Your health and your relationships should tell you when you’re over-stepping.
- Embrace work as an essential part of a rich life – not a burden to abhor.
- If your work isn’t your passion, find an outcome that is (like putting your kids through a good school or supporting a cause you value).
- Work where you work best. In other words, you might only need to change the environment in which you do it.
- Work how you work best. Perhaps you’re in the right industry or even the right job, but the way you engage with it might need a change. That might mean working different hours or performing a different subset of the work. Perhaps you can outsource the parts that are difficult or tedious.
One thing I’ve learned in 34 years of work is this. Compensation won’t ease the pain. No amount of money will wash away the resentment when your answer to ‘Why am I doing this?’ isn’t acceptable to you. And working five days to live two, or 48 weeks to live 4 makes a mockery of our brief time here.
Many of us chose our career based on its financial prospects, and this is understandable. Likewise, our SAT or ATAR scores served as the best guess for which industry to enter. At the time, this also made sense because it’s what everyone else did. But at some point, many of us reach an impasse where we realise – sometimes dramatically – that we are unfulfilled. Or depressed. And the money or the status we were chasing is no longer enough to keep the black dog at bay.
You mightn’t be ready to pursue your passion. Odds are you’re not even sure what that is right now. What you can do though, is ask yourself the question, “Why am I doing this?” When you know the answer; when it’s clear and unambiguous, you then have a decision to make. Do you like the answer or not?
You might find the answer is yes, in which case a load is lifted. Or, you’ll realise the answer is no and something needs to change. And that change mightn’t be seismic; it might be just a tweak here or there.
I often forget which day I’m in because of three simple adjustments I made to my life. The first was at the turn of the century (how cool to be able to say that), when I started doing my job remotely – mostly from home. Immediately, my job became 300% more enjoyable. The second was when I lost everything leading up to and following my divorce. I made the deliberate decision to place my dreams on hold and to devote myself to funding my girls’ education and paying off debts. The third one was when I decided to create something I cared about, and to do it like a pro (thanks to Steven Pressfield). What you’re reading is the result.
In each case, I asked, ‘Why am I doing this?’, and when something felt off, I made a change. With my job, I wondered why I had to commute every day just to sit in an office in front of a computer. Why couldn’t I do that from home? When I lost all five properties and wound up with no money and $140k of debt, I asked, “Why am I working so damn hard?” The answer came in the form of my girls’ education and paying off my debts. And when I’d done all that and my work lacked purpose again, I decided to add something I really cared about. First, it was Midlife Tribe, and then Office Anywhere.
Yesterday I ‘worked’ from 6:00 am to 7:30 pm and I didn’t resent a second of it because it’s all part of my life. Right now, it’s 6:30 am and again, I’m happy to be in front of my keyboard writing this sentence. It’s all because I asked the question, gave an honest answer and where necessary, made some adjustments.
Craving work/life balance feels normal because it’s been sold to us that way. The truth is, though, once we ask the key question and make a few adjustments, everything falls into place. You dispense with the boundaries and welcome the possibilities. It’s then no longer a battle between work and life – it’s all just life.
Now, what day is it?
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