‘Time is money!’
This famous refrain is heard in many workplaces across the world and in three words, effectively manages to judge anyone who does not appear frantic, stressed, on the point of a nervous breakdown as well as those in the minority who have a social life and are happy or relaxed. In many workplaces, even taking a proper lunch break is deemed a sign of laziness, working through lunch breaks with a cold sandwich is quite normal and the ladder of promotion can only be climbed if sacrifices of time, family and personal life are made. Perhaps we have all been in a work environment such as this one at some point in our lives and the majority of us will have convinced ourselves that such sacrifices were justifiable in the short term. The problem is that the amazing job that requires so much self-sacrifice oftens turns out longer than short term and we find ourselves trapped on the treadmill of life caught between work responsibilities, home life, friends and other activities whilst making promises to ourselves and others around us to change the chaos. Let's be honest, we’ve all been that person once or twice, and if you are anything like me, you may have been there several times more.
There is no doubt that technology has sped up the pace of our lives and as we are able to achieve more in less time, somehow we have come to equate taking life at a more leisurely pace with ‘missing out on something’, although what we are missing out on is seldom clearly defined. So with more gadgets to do things for us, more technology at our fingertips, faster travel and instant access to friends on the other side of the world, how is it that our lives have become more complicated - as opposed to less complicated - than previous generations?
Time is one of our most precious commodities and we each divide the time that we have between our responsibilities, work and that which we choose to do in leisure moments. The more hours I work, the more I get paid. The bigger the salary is, the sooner I will reach my goal of… Yet once that goal is attained, another one pops up to take its place. Or maybe it takes us longer to reach our goal than planned as a result of unforeseen expenditure. Whichever it is, we never actually reach all of our goals because we just keep making more of them. If we look at them individually, we know that each one is valid in itself yet the impact upon our lives is that we are being constantly driven to chase something that we do not have. More often than not this insatiable appetite also manages to deprive us of enjoying the moment - the here and now - that we are living. Don’t get me wrong. Hard work is still an outstanding quality that we long to see, both within individuals and societies, but the lifestyle of hard work needs to be balanced with priorities in other areas of life, be those family, friends or leisure activities. There is more to life than just going to work, coming home, eating and sleeping!!
As I write this, I am putting into words the things that I have said to myself countless times and yet somehow, still haven’t learnt or worked into my lifestyle. My tendency is prioritise work to the point that I have no time for friends, taking classes in something that interests me or developing a hobby. Sound familiar? I can acknowledge - alongside anyone else - the need for a balanced lifestyle and yet when it comes down to it, balanced is the last word that could be used to describe my personal chaos. So why does it seem to be so hard not only for myself, but also for countless others in my circle?
Coming from an Anglo-Saxon society, the core values that are highly valued are work and working hard. As mentioned previously, these are not negative values in themselves, but commendable qualities. The problem - I believe - lies in the fact that other possible values are relegated to such a lowly position on the list of priorities that they do not have a significant impact on the way life is lived. Let me explain a little further. For the last eight years I have lived in Spain where there is a completely different attitude towards life, work, family and friends. The attitudes here are the opposite to those that I grew up with in New Zealand or have been influenced by in the United Kingdom or by my Chinese roots. The Spanish highly value their families, free time, relaxing and friends and they guard jealously time set aside for leisure. Outside of Spain, it is quite common to come across an attitude that refers to the Spanish set of values as ‘laziness’. However, I know many Spaniards who work very long hours and have a great deal of responsibility, but when they have time to relax, they are able to chill completely (it is normal to have lunch with friends over three - five hours) and enjoy the moment. When I arrived in Spain, I had spent the previous two years working two jobs in a village in England for the minimum wage whilst completing my degree (and therefore working around 60 hours per week) and the year prior to that I had spent in China where it is normal to work six days per week. Working hard is what comes naturally to me and what feels right. Since arriving in Spain, I have had to learn how to relax. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? This means that if I am with friends, I am not checking my phone for work messages and that I am able to switch off from work and the list of things waiting to be done and enjoy my friends and whatever we happen to be doing at that moment in time. It sounds easy, but actually it has been a discipline that has had to be worked into my life and I am still working on it! My natural tendency is to become so busy with work that my social life is a distant memory of my last holidays. Sound familiar?
So the question is do we live to work or work to live? The answer to that question will be different for each of us, but for the majority within English-speaking countries the answer - whether we like it or not - will be ‘live to work’. How do we then transfer over to have valuable time with friends and family and achieve that ever evasive quality called balance? I believe that time needs to be taken to think about what our values and priorities actually are. Each person will have a distinct list of priorities which may include such things as pursuing playing a musical instrument, taking up a sport, learning another language and staying in closer touch with family members and friends. It’s time to blow the dust off our lists and make some adjustments to our lives! Perhaps it is not possible to learn a new language and how to make sushi whilst taking up surfing and attending more dinner parties and barbecues, but surely, with a little thought and adjustment, time can be made for that which we deem important.
Here at Lovejoy’s, family is a priority and although how that is worked out in our lives looks different for each person, we appreciate quality time with our family members and staying in touch. Given that I am living in Spain and that my family members live in about five different countries on three continents across the globe, making time for family means taking the time to send some messages or photos and keep in touch. It also means that I need to make myself available at inconvenient hours (as a result of us living in different time zones) in order to be available for video calls. And as I write, I can see the faces of some of my cousins who are waiting to hear from me...Time to take my own advice, blow the dust of my own list of priorities and make some time for those who are important to me! Let me leave you with a couple of thoughts. Find (or write) your list of priorities and readjust the balance. Now is the only moment we have to live and when put that way, working to live not living to work makes perfect sense. :-)