Making a Living vs. Making a Life

In graduate school I remember taking an evening walk with my friend and we were talking about what we were going to do after college.  We knew we were going to have to get jobs and we were trying to determine where we’d be the most happy.  Our conversation went roughly like this:

Me:  Something doesn’t feel right about getting a job.
Him:  What do you mean?
Me:  Well it seems like I’ll have to spend the vast majority of my day going to a place I’d rather not be, doing work I’d rather not be doing, and driving home in traffic I’d rather not be driving home in, just so I can get up and do it again the next day.
Him:  I thought you liked Human Factors (this is what I was getting my Master’s Degree in).
Me:  I do.  But right now I get to spend my days mostly how I please and I only have to go to class 10 hours a week.  When it comes time to get a job I think I’m going to feel trapped, tied down, and maybe a little indentured.
Him:  Yeah, I know what you mean.  But what choice do we have?  We have to earn a living.

“Have to earn a living.”  Why?

I remember saying to my friend that it just didn’t seem right that we, as humans, incarnate just so we can fill our day with work so we can make money so we can buy food, shelter, and clothing.  Why not skip the work part and just get food, clothing and shelter?  He launched into a long explanation on economics and about how some people would be lazy if everything was handed to them without having to work.  I’m sure I came up with some idea about how everyone should have all their basic needs taken care of and then if they wanted more, they were welcome to work for it.  Part capitalist part socialist society.  We went around in circles for a while and decided we would simply have to find jobs that were at least somewhat interesting so we could cope with spending 40 hours a week and 40 years of our lives working.  We also decided that those precious 3 hours after work each day would have to be spent doing something fun like seeing movies, watching tv, hanging out with friends, and having interesting meals.  But the more I thought about it, the more I decided it wasn’t natural. 

Starting my own business didn’t seem like a good alternative.  My father and uncle both ran their own businesses and they worked 80 hours a week instead of 40; my father was usually at the office 6 days a week and worked from home on the 7th.  Although they both seemed to enjoy running their businesses it still didn’t seem like a good way to spend my life.  I never had so much freedom as I had in college.  I slept when I wanted to, exercised when I felt like it, took naps in the middle of the day if I was tired, stayed up late if I was having fun, and spent countless hours with friends hanging out and talking about life, the universe, and everything.  That’s the time in my life where I felt like I was really living.  But they don’t pay you to do that.

After college I spent a short while working for someone else.  I dreaded and hated going to work every day.  I felt like I had to turn off “real me” and turn on “worker me.”  I tried continuing that college lifestyle but soon the bills forced that wonderful freedom away, and my friends drifted off too since they were too tired after working all day to spend time with me.

Then I went to work for Steve and his Dexterity Software company.  I got a lot of freedom back when I made this move.  However, we were working really long hours for less pay than when I worked for someone else.  Eventually this deficiency of income led to bankruptcy.

Steve took his software company in a new, more profitable direction and I began doing web consulting because it seemed lucrative.  At around this time I was also becoming vegan.  So I combined my talent and interest and started my online magazine, VegFamily.  It had moderate success. Over the years I built it up to a point where it was profitable and I only needed to work on it directly a few hours per month.  In time, I even self-published two books and made oodles of cash from that with very little effort.  I thought I really had it down.  I was making money doing what I did best, tapping obvious markets.  But after a while, I began losing interest in all of these things.  I realized I was not growing, learning or challenging myself.  I didn’t have passion.  My income had reached a plateau.  I realized I was doing what I “could” do instead of what I “wanted” to do.  I was also ignoring what I felt I should do because I honestly couldn’t see how I could make money just being the real me.

Steve gave me an exercise to try that he said would help me find my passion.  I wrote about this exercise in my blog entry, The Path to Purpose. I discovered a whole new me I thought was long buried.  In the exercise you answer four questions and the answers help you determine what you should do with your life.  Mine led me to what I’m doing today and what I’ll be doing in the future.  I finally feel like I am making a life instead of making a living.

When I do readings for people I often find they are trapped in the “What can I do” mentality.  “I am a software engineer, but I’m not happy.”  Or “I’m the regional vice president of my bank, but I’m not fulfilled.  I dread going to work each day.”  It’s very hard for some people to believe they can find something to do with their lives that can satisfy their survival needs, that contributes to the improvement of others or society, that they love, and that they are qualified to do.  But that is exactly what you must strive for.  You may need to take a few steps back to go forward in another direction.  You may need to go back to school, you may just need to take your skills to a new industry, or maybe you just need to remember who you are.  I know so many people who hate their jobs but think they are stuck there.  I know people who have climbed so high on their corporate ladders and believe they cannot take a few steps down even if it will give them more happiness.  I did a reading for a man awhile back who really wanted to become a high school basketball coach but felt it was too “low status” in society and that people would think he was stupid.  So he decided he had to continue working at a job he hated so he would be perceived as successful when inside he was miserable.  Know anyone in a similar situation?

Do you get up each morning eager to get to work?  Or do you pack your soul away in your closet before you leave for work each morning, anxious to liberate it when you get home?  Is your soul in your work or is your soul waiting for you to get home from work?  Life is too short to spend time making a living so you can buy freedom on the weekends.  You are entitled to a life of joy and happiness.  It’s not too late to claim your joyous life.  I understand economics and that you must earn money to get along in society.  But I also know you can make a living while making a life.  People all over the world are doing it.  Isn’t it time you were one of them?

Life is precious.  It’s not about pushing paper around a desk, living in a cubicle, or picking up your boss’ dry cleaning.  It’s not about working 80 hours a week to keep your employees fed either.  It’s about tapping into that unique spark that makes you who you are and sharing it with the rest of us.

I look forward to Monday morning.  I love what I do.  I can’t wait to get to my office.  No work happens in my office.  Life happens in my office.  I keep my soul with me everywhere I go.  Where is your soul when you’re working?

If you haven’t already done the exercise in The Path to Purpose I highly recommend it. It really changed my life.  I know too many people who are working for money instead of working for life.  Are you one of them?

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