When it comes to food, I know exactly which side of the divide my allegiance is pitched: I live to eat rather than eat to live. However, when it comes to work, I can’t make up my mind. I definitely don’t have a job that’s important enough for me to live solely to work, but I enjoy the ritual and purpose that are inherent to the nine-to-five too much to honestly say that I work just to live.
It’s perhaps a strange thing to admit, but I actually like having to work for a living. If I won the lottery, I’d probably continue to work in some way (after a massive and suitably lavish extended holiday, of course). I get a kick out of having a ‘work mode’ – a different side to my personality that not everyone sees. Plus, I am addicted to crossing things off lists.
My ingrained Protestant work ethic aside, there are so many reasons why working is, in general, A Good Thing. It helps me feel confident, independent and part of society at large. It informs a fundamental part of my personality, and gives me an outlet for the bossy, neurotic, highly strung side of my nature. It gives me less time to obsess over small things, and more perspective when it comes to the bigger picture. And, obviously, it returns cold, hard cash (to spend, in my case at least, on mortgage, nursery, Oyster top-ups, baby shoes and – if there’s enough left over at the end of all that – a trashy magazine).
Professional environments also curb the extremes of our natures much more than school or family life ever could. Whereas at school and at home we can lash out at perceived slights with little consequence, at work we learn the acceptable boundaries of behaviour – and to keep a lid on it when our boss or colleagues try our patience. In the office, I am someone who is a lot more level-headed, cheerful and patient than I ever manage to be at home.
And even if you couldn’t give a monkeys about all that, it’s undeniable that working all week adds value to time off – downing tools on a Friday night is such a sweet feeling, and making weekend or holiday plans is doubly exciting if you’re strapped for leisure time.
I’m not even going to broach the topic of being a working mum here, because I still don’t feel able to put how I feel about that particular emotional conflict into words (it’s basically fifty shades of guilt). But side-stepping that can of worms, I’d say that work in general – however much we love to resent it – is time well spent. What causes problems is trying to balance work with the rest of life. If only I could learn to switch off a bit more when I’m out of the office, I’d have it made…
What do you think? Do you enjoy working or is it just a means to an end? Would you give it all up tomorrow if you had the chance?