Is Work for ‘Suckers’?

“Work is for suckers.” Apparently, that’s the wisdom my little brother’s trade school instructor is imparting to his classes.

William–that’s my brother–is 21 and after a few years at a community college, decided to become an electrician. For years before that he’d flip-flopped back and forth between nursing (he worked as a CNA for a while) and teaching. He’d be really great at either of these jobs. He’d already been working as a lifeguard and swim instructor for years–kids love him. So, becoming an electrician was a bit of a left turn.

“I don’t want a job that takes over my life,” he said, when I asked why he’d given up on nursing.

I can’t argue with that.

We all have to work. Unless we’re going to revert back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle or subsitence farming, we need money to buy the things that keep us safe and alive. But we don’t need to work ourselves into the ground–that’s often a choice we make.

Build a Lifestyle, Not a Career

I don’t think I could have articulated it at the time, but when I was a kid imagining being a writer, part of the allure was avoiding the drudgery of an ordinary office job. What I didn’t know at the time was that plenty of writers have day jobs.

They work at universities, publishing houses, advertising agencies, restaurants, and in all sorts of businesses with the need for communications or technical writing professionals. Don’t fool yourself, the Stephen Kings of the world are few and far between. Almost no one makes a living off of their passion projects. Even if you’re an established freelancer, you probably find yourself writing all kinds of junk you’d rather not be messing with.

But being a freelance writer isn’t the only profession that allows you to control your lifestyle. In fact, if the electricians I know are any indication, my brother is on the right track.

One of my aunts is married to a union electrician. They have a nice house in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a camper near the Jersey Shore, and he often takes off entire summers–or winters, depending on which weather he’s trying to avoid that year–just because he can. Meanwhile, my parents’ neighbor’s son–also an electrician–just bought a cabin in New Hampshire where he and his family retreat to ride snowmobiles.

These guys are the literal embodiment of “working to live, not living to work.”

It’s All in Your Head

If you’re lucky enough to work from home, or have the kind of control over your schedule that my electrician acquaintances have, you’re a step ahead of the game. But if you’re a workaholic it won’t matter what type of job you have.

According to Psychology Today, workaholism is an actual illness:

Workaholism is a family disease often passed down from parent to child. Workaholics use work to cope with emotional discomfort and feelings of inadequacy. They get adrenaline highs from work binges and then crash from exhaustion, resulting in periods of irritability, low self-esteemanxietyand depression. To cope with these feelings, workaholics then begin another cycle of excessive devotion to work. Workaholics are so immersed in work they have little time to invest in family life and child-rearing.

And the problem with this particular illness is that people will validate you for it.

“Oh, he’s such a hardworker.”

“She’s such a busy little bee.”

Half the battle on your way to a different life–a better life–is overcoming the idea that your value comes from work. (We’ll work on that later…) If you can let go of than hang up and discover what kind of life will truly make you happy, you can start working toward it.

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