Work to Live or Live to Work: The double-edged sword of productivity and purpose.

Do you ever feel like you’re living to work instead of working to live?

What’s the purpose of a job, really? Is it income? Is it purpose? Is it something else entirely?

Even the smartest, most influential folks in the world, like the ones I interview on The Disruptors suffer from this very same issue.

Today, the world’s more complicated than ever. You’ve got millennials searching meaning and memorable experiences and millions of un-or-underemployed folks fighting for a paycheck. There’s college debt through the roof. The economy’s at all-time highs (thanks to artificial inflation). And we’re all more depressed than ever…

What the hell is going on?

Last week, I had my first vacation in years, a week at the beach: 0.6MB/s internet speed. Trust me, that’s slow, the “loading Gmail in html” kind of slow. The “your team better be able to cover your back” kind of slow.

It was good, and it was hard. Time to think and time to question. What am I doing here? What am I working towards?


That’s the question we all have, the one that underlies everything. WHY? And for many of us (myself included), we often don’t have a good answer. I brush my teeth because I’m supposed to, had the leftover chicken because it was in the fridge, worked on my business because who else will…?

But, what’s the point? What do you want? What do I want?

The meaning of life isn’t to work. And it isn’t to make money either. Studies show we’re not any happier above $60–80k per year.

Incremental income and effort don’t improve happiness. So, why do we push for more? Why does work feel like the ends and not the means to an end?

Have you ever found something to do because you felt like you “should?” Your room was clean, the house pristine, and still you searched something to improve… that’s OCD, that’s excessiveness.

What about in business, in life? When are marginal things worth working on, and when is rest and relaxation a more powerful antidote?

Before going on the trip, I was burned out. Mentally and physically exhausted, motivation on the rails. Things were hard. They still are.

For me, there is no such thing as a magical off-switch. I can’t just relax. I NEED to work, need to be stimulated. Like the heroin addict seeking another hit, my mind searches out “productivity.” Or at least the feeling of it.

Many entrepreneurs are wired like that. We feel inadequate, we judge ourselves by our creations… we work ourselves to death. Is it perfectionism? Is it something deeper? I don’t know.

What drives a founder (or creative or artist or innovator) to slog day in and day out for their vision?

And when does it switch from healthy motivation to destructive obsession?

We’ve all been there. The twitchy I should check my email feeling.

But what’s the point? What mixture of dopamine, stress and self-doubt get us to open a new tab and work in the face of reason and results? One more email, one more… One more.

Time is the one unrenewable resource. Everything else (with enough money and effort) is doable but (at least to date) death’s the one inescapable constant.

How will you spend your time? How should I spend mine?

It’s an individual decision for all of us. Is it about the money and external “success,” or happiness and well-being? What do we prioritize?

What happens when the two collide?

Like it or not, our actions are nothing more than a reflection of our priorities. We can say and believe anything, but when push comes to shove, what do we do?

What do you do when YOU don’t know what to do?

Are you okay with that? Am I?

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad… right?


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