Work to Live or Live to Work? Is One Better Than The Other?

Updated Dec 21, 20225 min
Work to Live or Live to Work? Is One Better Than The Other?

Work to Live or Live to Work? Is One Better Than The Other?

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20225 min
Work to Live or Live to Work? Is One Better Than The Other?

What's your opinion about work? Are you a high-achieving, type A personality to the extent that your work defines you? Is work your top priority? Do you love your work? Are you, or do you plan to be an entrepreneur? If yes, then you likely live to work.

Alternatively, do you see work as a way to pay the bills and make ends meet? Do you work all week so that you can pursue your passion at the weekend, whether it be an outdoor lifestyle, a sport, or another interest? Is work something that you wouldn't do if you didn't have to? Is work-life balance a priority? If this sounds more like you, you likely work to live.

Neither practice is right or wrong. How you approach work should depend on what makes you happy in life. This article examines what the two terms mean and the differences between working to live and living to work. The article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Finally, the article looks at a third option that could be a happy medium. 

What Is Working to Live?

Working to live means that work is not your priority. It is working to the extent that you earn enough to support yourself and your family. Working to live is choosing a comfortable job rather than hard work, long hours, and always going the extra mile to advance your career. Working to live implies taking a better work arrangement that is less stressful and gives you time and energy for other aspects of your life.

For example, a job in a large organization may be very different to a high-energy startup. Large organizations tend to be more bureaucratic and slower moving, so there is less pressure to meet deadlines. In a high-energy startup, there is pressure to maintain a certain pace and to achieve a goal within a certain timeframe.

What Is Living to Work?

In a high-energy startup, co-workers are a team and intensely focused on a goal for a certain period. The mindset is living to work because the product is the focus of their existence. An entrepreneur lives to work because they must put 100 percent of their energy and time into building their business. Entrepreneurs are usually doing what they love.  As the saying goes, “Do what you love, and the money will come.”

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of working to live versus living to work.

Working to Live—Pros and Cons

If you choose to work to live, you have a job for the sole purpose of earning the necessary amount of money to support yourself and your family. You may hate your job, and you might just tolerate the working week and look forward to the weekends. Your priority is not your job. 

The advantages are that you will have more time for your personal life because you are less concerned with advancing professionally or gaining wealth. You should be less stressed because you are taking on a smaller workload or choosing to have less responsibility. The goal is to make enough money to live comfortably and to be satisfied with a certain lifestyle.

The disadvantages of working to live are that you are unlikely to become an entrepreneur or to become super-wealthy. Also, if you don’t like what you do, you may be unhappy for forty hours a week, which can make life unliveable.  

Living to Work—Pros and Cons

If you choose to live to work, the advantages are that you are more likely to advance professionally because your full-time work is your focus. Most likely, if you have this mindset, you love what you do. You may become an entrepreneur and launch a successful business.

The disadvantages of living to work are that you could burn out. Working constantly and leaving little time for family or your personal life can be stressful for both young people and old. Stress is detrimental to your mental and physical wellbeing.

People who live to work can become consumed by their work. This is often the case for business owners who shoulder the responsibility of managing their company. Because they are so passionate about their business venture, business owners are typically workaholics.

Deciding Which Is For you

Choosing one lifestyle over another comes down to what makes you happy. What is most important to you? Is it a successful career? Is it spending time with your family? Is it your health or your hobbies? Once you determine your priorities, you can then select which mindset you should assume.

Remember that your priorities will change over your lifetime. If you are a young professional with no family obligations, now is the time to prioritize your career. If you are married and starting a family, you might prioritize your career less and want some flexibility so that you can spend time with your loved ones.

The truth is there is no right or wrong way to approach your career or to live your life. The choice essentially comes down to your beliefs and values and how you feel you should spend your time.

Is There a Happy Medium?

Working to live and living to work are two extremes, and you don’t have to go to either extreme. It is possible to love your work, to have a strong work ethic, and to find balance with family life, personal time, and work. Here are some tips for doing so.

1. Prioritize

Think about your priorities. What do you want to achieve in the short term and in the long term? You should also consider how much time you have, and what you can feasibly get done.

It may not be possible to balance launching a business by a certain date, spend quality family time, and train for a marathon all at the same time. You might have to make a temporary sacrifice, launch the business first, and then plan to back off on your work and focus on family.

2. Find Balance

Look at what you want to achieve, and plan your time accordingly. Leave time for essentials like exercise and maintaining your wellbeing. If you have to focus on work intensively for a period, plan some downtime afterward so you can recharge.

3. Create Boundaries

Maintain boundaries so that you don’t blur the lines between work and home life. That includes looking at your physical space. For example, the recent COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to work at home. But working in your living room encroaches on your personal time. Allocate a place and time for work that is away from your personal space if you can. That will help you to mentally switch off from work when you need to.

If you work from home, dedicate a space as your office. It can be tempting to work if your office is in the next room, so plan to leave the home when you want to spend free time with family, friends, or otherwise spend personal time.

Bottom Line

Whether you work to live or live to work, what work means to you should be based on what will make you happy. Once you figure that out, it will be much easier to plan your life in the short and long term. Remember that you will always have to make tradeoffs because it is impossible to have everything in life. So, set your priorities, commit to a path, and go from there.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

Grow your career with a coach

Find my coach