There’s More to Life Than Work (I Think)

You should work to live, not live to work.

I have, in very recent history, openly scoffed at this adage. I have thought to myself, “My work is not just work…it is life. My work is meaningful and important, so I don’t need to worry about keeping my work time under control. Everything just blends together and it’s okay!”

I’m pretty sure I was wrong.

These days, I’m starting to reconsider my stance on what a good life looks like. I’m on something of a journey of self-discovery (that sounds much better than “existential crisis,” doesn’t it?) As I try to determine the next steps in my career, I am reexamining my work-related values. As I previously alluded to, those values used to be something along the lines of: “Be everything to everyone all the time, and be the best at it.”

There are many contributing factors that led to my work ethic, including perfectionism, gendered achievement expectations (I can’t just be successful, I also have to be selfless), and endless positive reinforcement for my burgeoning workaholism. I believe that these factors are tied into the culture of student affairs and in larger part, to societal factors that conflate being busy or stressed with vocational success.

Here are some of my thoughts about redefining “success” and valuing a holistic life:

Free time is where creativity and potential exist. 

All work and no play make Ashley a dull person. Seriously. Not just for the obvious reason that free time is enjoyable, but because when your mind is allowed to have space to breathe without constant attentiveness to already-determined tasks, you have the chance to dream, imagine, and think deeply about a whole variety of things.

“I don’t have anything else to do” is a crappy reason to work more. 

How many times have you said some variety of this? “I’m not doing anything else…so I might as well just go to the office on the weekend/check my email/work on a work-related project after hours.” Maybe you don’t have anything else to do because all you ever do is work. Have you thought of that?

Know when you’re at your peak performance. Don’t go beyond that. 

Listen to your body. Pay attention to how clear your mind is. Know what it feels like to be productive, energized, and “in the zone.” And if you’re not there, take breaks, take care of yourself, take a walk. We are not robots or machines. We are humans.

Being healthy and well is more important. 

I frequently tell my students that they do not get a new body to trade in upon completion of college, and this admonition goes for all of us. We don’t get to trade in our abused, uncared for bodies and minds. These are the ones we have. What better use of our time is there than to make sure that we are in good condition? I will admit that there are many times that I have said “I don’t feel well, but I don’t have time to go to the doctor; I don’t have time to be sick.” Illness doesn’t, it turns out, just go away if you ignore it. And once you are really sick and have to take days out at inopportune times, your workload and stress level is not going to get any better. Prevention and maintenance matter.

Volunteering might be working dressed up in a disguise.

I’m just saying…I’m a master of this one. If you work in student affairs, there’s a good chance that almost everything you do is for other people. There’s also a good chance that your selflessness, positive attitude, and event planning skills make you a great volunteer. Be careful how many things you sign up for (on and off campus). Though every opportunity is likely a wonderful cause, you can only be spread so thin. Before you take the next volunteer opportunity, ask yourself these questions: Will doing this provide personal/professional benefits to me as well as to others? Am I actually going to enjoy doing this or see it as a burden or stress? Are there other people who are equally qualified and able to do this?

I know that I am more than my job and that my life is more than my job. It’s time to start acting that way and passing along a new work ethic. One that values dedication, hard work, self-care, kindness, intentionality, and living well.