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Do You "Work To Live" or "Live To Work"?

By Charlotte Burton

Let's be realistic here - hands up all of you who bounce out of bed every single morning, raring to get to work and enjoying yourself every minute of the day?

If you didn't put your hand up (even metaphorically), you're not alone. There have been so many articles published recently about working statistics in the UK - that Brits work the longest hours in the EU, that we have higher risks of heart disease than our continental friends due to stress and poor diet, there has been a rise in people "downshifting" and moving to the country to raise chickens and weave baskets. But many people who dream of doing just that don't, especially when there are so many television programs on, which show all the grisly details about how people who do downshift simply exchange one set of problems for another. While there are many people who make a real success of changing their careers in such a dramatic fashion, it might be worthwhile sorting out what problems you do have with your current career before making that radical decision to downshift.

First Things First

The first place to start is to think about why you chose to do what you do - what was it about Law that attracted you originally? Was it the logic that attracted you? Or the feeling of winning? Or the love of solving problems? Or was it the "safe thing to do? Were your parents lawyers and pushed you in that direction? Was it for the money? Even if the last few questions ring true for you, you can still enjoy your work.

What do you actually do?

Think about all the aspects of your job: what do you actually do during the day? Speak to people on the phone? Do research? Prepare reports? Present at meetings? If you do more than two of the above on a daily basis, you're not so different to many office workers.

So think about what part of the day you look forward to - apart from going-home time. Do you enjoy the challenge of presenting, or love learning new facts, or talking and interacting with other people? Try thinking about your day in terms of the actual things you do and what you can get out of each different task. Could you delegate or reassign the tasks you don't like doing and shift the majority of your workload towards the things you prefer? Or can you think about it all in a different way? How much of your day is spent doing the things you actually like? If it is less that 50%, will you settle for that? Try doing a rated pro/con list of everything you do, with each item being scored on a 1-5 scale, where 1 means you love it and 5 means you can't stand it. If you have lots of 1s on your pro list and lots of 3s on your con list, that's good, but if it is the other way around, and your pro items are all scored at 3 and your con list is all at 5, you may want to think about re-evaluating your career.

People Problems

Treat people are THEY wish to be treated

What if the people that surround you are what makes you dread walking through the door in the morning? Do you have an annoying boss, colleague or client? If you heart sinks when a certain person opens their mouth - for whatever reason (condescension, cattiness or plain stupidity), try thinking about what exactly it is that is rubbing you the wrong way. You're you - deserving of respect and care. But doesn't that go the other way too? There's that old saying "treat others as you wish to be treated", but surely everyone is different? Shouldn't that really be altered to say "treat everyone as THEY wish to be treated"? This requires you to actually attempt to understand other people - and while it takes that bit more effort, it can help you reduce unnecessary friction and make the people who surround you daily into more than just people who work in the same location.

Change Yourself, not Others

No doubt you've heard it before - you can't change someone else. What you can do is change your attitude and behaviour towards them. If you're being defensive around one person always, try thinking about why that is - is there some niggle in your mind saying that this person is not on the same level as you. Are you jealous of the way they are and the way they live? If they are junior to you in experience and position, but are the "darling of the boss, is their progress something that you wish had happened to you? What would happen if you started treating them as an equal?

Respond with Care

What about if you are being treated unfairly? If you are reacting to this with a very hostile manner, you are really tying yourself into a viscious circle where it will be impossible to escape with your self-esteem, dignity and reputation intact. I don't mean to say "take it on the chin", but you can do a lot about situations like these without actually bringing yourself down to a level where relations are irreparably damaged. For instance, you don't need to show your boss that your colleague is being badly behaved by using the style of a schoolgirl tattling to her teacher. Try speaking to the person who is upsetting you and explaining why their behaviour is so hurtful, and suggesting an alternate way of interacting. Often, people really just don't realise that what they are doing is offensive or mean, and may actually think that it is a lighthearted joke. And if you are able to present this to them in a way that does not resemble a personal attack, you may be able to rescue the situation without any problems at all. Obviously there are times where this won't work, and this may require you to evaluate the values of those around you - and if they don't match yours, you will need to think your options through in rather more detail.

Case Study 1 - Work-Life Balance

One client of mine recently posed the problem that there was no chance of her ever enjoying her job, and refused to consider looking for a new one. I was quite shocked by this statement - as she was basically refusing to do anything about her problem, but I couldn't resist the challenge. So I set her the task of removing two "bad things from other areas of her life (not her work), and replacing them with two "good things every week and introducing a weekly reward into her life for all the "bad things she still had to do. Initially she started by replacing an unhealthy breakfast with a healthy one, and secondly she replaced vegging out mindlessly in front of the telly every evening with going out for dinner regularly. As her treat in the first week she went and had a massage and facial on Saturday. Each week she repeated this process, with things like gettting a new chair for her home office so she could sit correctly while surfing the internet, and going and doing the exercise she really enjoyed (squash) rather than going to the gym. One day, she told me that she was actually enjoying getting up every morning as she had something to look forward to every evening after work. She no longer slept late at the weekend and did nothing of note for two whole days, but got out and did things that she"d been missing, like going to galleries and the theatre. She was in a highly paid job so all she was doing before was watching her bank balance rise and rise, work harder and harder and never see any benefit from working herself into the ground. Most importantly, she started rediscovering her love for her work as she now had the energy to tackle her highly demanding job.

Case study 2 - Control Issues

Another client of mine was constantly rushing from one drama to another and loved her job in theory, but hated it in practice, and realised that her lack of time was affecting her life outside her work as well as her health. We implemented a prioritising plan and she committed herself to learning a relaxation technique, but also we tackled the cause of her stress: her belief that each and every task had to be done immediately and by her alone. By learning how to delegate and prioritise - as well as understanding where her need for control came from - she was able to alleviate and ultimately remove the cause of her stress - and ultimately become happier and more fulfilled, and, most importantly more productive: she's just closed a deal which she truly thought she would have no chance on thanks to the sheer volume of work that needed doing in preparation. Her assistant now handles most of that, and appreciates the extra responsibility along with the pay raise!


It is all too important that when dealing with stress you attack it on both sides - the symptoms and the cause. If you only treat the symptoms you will keep having to treat them. By removing the cause, you remove the need to constantly treat the symptoms as well.

Stay or Go - fix your problems first either way

If you are truly not enjoying your job, it is important to find out why. If it is due to something that is relatively simple to fix, there is no need to go through the hassle of upheaving your whole life. However, there are many cases where the career you're in is just not suited to you. Do you really want to be spending a third of your life (or more) doing what you're doing? If you don't, you're not alone. Recent reports show that the average number of careers a person has in their working lifetime is 3 - and that figure is increasing. If you are truly bored by your job, gather up your resources and change! Remember though, that you may be taking the same problems with you, so it might be worth working them out now and getting them fixed before you make the move.

About The Author

© Charlotte Burton 2004. Charlotte Burton is a Licensed Career Coach & Psychometric Assessor. For more information, to sign up for the regular ezine, or to request your free consultation, visit the website at


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