Does Work Control Your Life?

Originally published 8/9/10

Being on vacation was a little different this summer. In the past, on the last day of the trip, maybe the last two, I would be getting crabby thinking about all the stuff that would hit me when I got back to the office. Usually some stinking presentation that I didn't want to prepare for, and didn't want to give. This year -- I was only worried about how tall the grass would be, and if the mower would be able to get through it without stalling.

Making this observation caused me to notice some other things that were different. I didn't try to sneak a peek at my email ten times a day. I didn't need to get up early to take care of some problem, or work on a deal. There were no conference calls I needed to participate in.

All this caused me to think further about how intrusive my career was on my life in general. It wasn't just on vacation, in fact, it was ever present. Working late or going in early only to be exhausted later. Evenings spent at dinners and other events that I really had no interest in, but had to attend. And on top of all, there were the ever present demands that work made on my mind -- I think it was always taking 50-70% of my bandwidth, even when I wasn't there.

Don't get me wrong -- much of the fault for this was mine. I allowed myself to be ruled by work. It was giving me status, income, and a sense of importance and accomplishment, but in exchange it was demanding a lot, too. Many of the demands were, however, subtle.

It's one thing to devote time to something you're passionate about, and quite another to devote it as an obligation. Somewhere along the line, passion was mostly replaced by obligation. Obligation inspired resentment, and resentment got me to where I am now.

Can work be a passion that doesn't grow into obligation? Can it be prevented from controlling your life? Probably not in a typical large public corporation, especially if your commitment is being overtly measured by your willingness to sacrifice your life to the company. Yes, they provide a lot, but they may ask for everything but your soul.