• Laura Lin

Work to Live instead of Living to Work

Updated: May 22

Last night I learned of the passing of a coworker, though they were not the model of health, they were far from being on death’s door. She was just two years younger than me.

Death has a way of giving one pause, making you re-evaluate what you’re doing in life and where you’re going.

With the new year, I made a big decision, I got a new job. It was not an easy thing to decide as it meant a decrease in pay and no benefits, but it did mean moving into a field that I desired and easing some stress. Almost instantly I realized I had made the right decision because I now find myself with energy and time to truly live in this world and not just survive it.

Prior to this job change, my entire existence was work. I went there, dealt with the stress and hectic pace of retail pharmacy. At the end of each day, I left feeling emotionally, physically, and mentally drained which meant I had nothing left to give to my family. Family meals were a treat that came maybe once a week and holidays were a blip on the radar of the bigger picture. I was miserable and didn’t even know it because I thought this is how it is, this is what work is – a miserable time and soul-sucking leech on humanity. I needed to just suck it up and hope I lived long enough to retire.

Retail is a vicious animal that sends far too many to an early grave. Now, I’m not blaming my former workplace for the death of my co-worker, but it certainly didn’t help her health. We worked through holidays, even Christmas, to do what? - ensure that people could buy a pack of toilet paper at any time, night or day. Seriously?! Daily we had the stress of our inadequacies, one person trying to fight the clock and the demands of the public, all the while the threat of being “held accountable” held over our heads. Everything has to be done instantly as if it were a life or death situation because heaven forbid a customer has to wait for an item or to checkout. But will any of that matter when we’re dead and gone? Does that customer even see that the workers are a human beings with emotions and problems as well?

My new job allows me to not only feel like a person again, but to be treated like one as well. I smile more, have more energy, and have reclaimed my life. This, in turn, allows me to reconnect with my family. I gave up worldly priorities in order to gain my priorities back. But how many are trapped in this vicious lie that says that we sell our soul for the dollar? What good is all that money? What purpose does the fancy car and name brand clothes serve when we are dead? I feel confident in saying that when my coworker was dying she wasn’t thinking about stocking the shelves in her department.

Jobs are necessary but they should not become our all-consuming focus. When we die, our position at work will almost instantly be filled by another, but it can never be filled at home. YOU ARE IRREPLACEABLE.

Life really is short and we don’t know when it will be snatched away. There is no guarantee that you will make it to retirement in order to start enjoying life, therefore you need to make the most out of every day you are given. I’m not saying that everyone needs to go and quit their job, but I am saying that everyone should evaluate where they are at. Until I got out of that crazy environment of being a cog in corporate America’s retail machine I had no clue that my soul was dying a slow, painful death.

It is unfair of me to just blame corporate America when it is society that cracks the whip. We have become creatures of instant gratification, demanding convenience with little regard to who has to deliver it. I have actually heard people complain about stores being closed on Christmas day. Really?! You can’t even give workers that one moment of family time because you may want to shop that day? Seriously? Have we become so self-centered that we can’t allow a store to be closed one day? I have to marvel that previous generations survived without the 24/7 convenience that we have today. My gosh! What did they do if they couldn’t buy ice-cream in the middle of the night on a Sunday?

What if we started looking at those working as actual people, with aches and pains and emotions? What if we spoke to them, gave a little smile, or -gasp, dear I say it – be kind to them? You think I exaggerate, but I have seen people in a checkout line never speak to the cashier, not even a simple “hello.” How can you ignore a person standing right in front of you? They are human beings just like you. Treat them as such.

When the shoppers come in this week, few will wonder where my coworker is, how she is doing, or if she’s even alright. They will only care if the product they desire is on the shelf. Her family and friends, however, will be missing her not just one day, but every day. There is more to this world than work, so don’t make it your life. It is a means to an end but not everything.

Even with an ideal job, it robs us of precious time. Recently I wrote a blog, Time is a Precious Commodity, about the limited free hours we have in a day. When it was all said and done we have approximately 3 hours to do with as we please and even that is usually chipped away by small things that pop up. We have to hang on to what is important to us and not compromise it for anybody or anything.

So why have I said all this? What was the point? To prompt you to think. You need to take care of your personal needs and look out for yourself because nobody else can do it for you. But I also want you to start looking at those around you as well – the cashier, server, stocker, post office clerk...everyone – and recognize that they are people too, not just your personal servant. Maybe, the next time your standing in a checkout line instead of grumbling about how slow it’s going you can be sympathetic to what the cashier is having to deal with as they are the one taking care of person after person – many of them rude and unkind. Or maybe when you find it difficult to get out of bed because you can’t stand the thought of facing another day at a job that you hate you will be motivated to start searching for one that you can be excited to go to.

Life is hard, and it’s messy, but there is far more to it than just the daily grind if you just open your eyes and heart to see it.

With this post comes some homework. I want you to sit down with pen and paper and make a list of what you want to achieve in life, what you desire, and then I want you to make another list of how you feel about your current life. Is it getting you to your goals? Do you feel like a human or a cog in the machine? Are you happy? Take your time with this task, give it some serious thought, and be honest. If when you’re done, you don’t like what you see, make yet another list of the changes you need to make and then start making it. But remember, we are not promised tomorrow, so start doing something meaningful today. It can be as small as putting down your phone to play a board game with your kids, or going outside to take a walk. Whatever you choose to do, I hope you will find a way to be a part of this world and your life right because nobody else can do it for you.