As a multi-business owner, my most frequent answer to conversation starters, “What have you been up to?” or “How have you been?” has been “Busy working!”
In response, I almost always hear, “You’re always working!” or “You’re always so busy!” with a guaranteed follow-up, “When do you ever rest?”
Indeed, when people ask me when I am going on vacation, I never know what to answer, because for me, “vacation” is far less defined than “work” and not something I plan months in advance, nor take on a regular basis, nor ever feel like I really need.
Reflecting on the concept of work in the above context, I realized that my definitions of both, “work” and “vacation” greatly deviate from the standard definitions that most people understand. Generally speaking, work is understood to be something one has to do for a finite amount of hours in a day in order to earn a living and support themselves and their family.
Indeed, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines work as:
“a: to perform work or fulfill duties regularly for wages or salary
b: to perform or carry through a task requiring sustained effort or continuous repeated operations
c: to exert oneself physically or mentally especially in sustained effort for a purpose or under compulsion or necessity”.
As a result of this conceptual framing, work carries a negative connotation and is often perceived as a drag, something one has to do, an opportunity cost to something fun and certainly mutually exclusive from vacation, which typically is associated with the absence of work or a break from work.
Surely, there are people who enjoy work and do jump out of bed in the morning and excitedly get to work. I happen to be one of those people, and I take it even a step further.
My Kind of Work
My own definition of work does not conform with the standard concept at all. I do not recall ever having a day where I was really dreading to work. Sure, there are some days I have to deal with mundane tasks I’m not too thrilled about doing, but there has never been a day where I wished I was in a different profession, or really wished I was doing a different type of work than what needed to get done. If anything, on extremely busy days, I feel disappointed knowing I won’t be able to finish all the things I’d like to accomplish that day and try to focus on squeezing in as much as I can.
This is the point where the reader (or those who’ve heard me try to explain this) start thinking I’m a crazy workaholic.
For me, work is my hobby and always has been. Even early in my career when I got my feet wet working for a large corporation before diving into my family business and later starting my own, I really enjoyed being employed, because it was a new experience for me and an opportunity to work with different kinds of people and learn new things. Earning a regular paycheck felt like sweet icing on top of the cake of knowledge.
The reason I got into the bad habit of saying I’ve been busy working, is because as a business owner, my work is very much intertwined with my day-to-day life. In a recent conversation with a friend, when I mentioned some of my recreational activities such as reading or exercising, my friend pointed out that knowing me, even when I’m “relaxing”, I’m probably doing some work-process in my head. While I hadn’t thought about it that way, it is quite true. Whether I am doing actual work-tasks like drafting documents, presenting at meetings and calculating spreadsheets or I am hanging out, working out, reading, watching something or just staring into space, somehow whatever I am doing gets applied to my work in some shape or form. Oftentimes a completely unrelated topic or conversation sparks an idea of how to address a work issue I’ve been pondering on. Other times I have to mentally dissect a task before sitting down to do it. In any case, diligently piecing together a work project or going on a relaxing walk brings an equal amount of joy and satisfaction.
Money and True Value
While monetary earnings are certainly the reason we all have to work, money for me is not the end goal of doing work, but rather a positive and necessary byproduct of achieving my goals and contributing something valuable to society.
I never really understood how differently I perceive the concept of work nor what about my work is truly important to me, until my career vitality was tested.
All businesses go through periods of success as well as periods of great challenges that test a company’s resilience. It was going through several years of a particularly challenging period in my business that solidified my work ethic and career choice.
When things got particularly tough, on more than one occasion I’ve had people casually mention that with my education and experience, I would be a top job candidate for an executive role at any major high-paying corporation, and yes, there were times where I may have felt that this would be the “smart” thing to do, that conventionally make perfect sense. Yet, I’ve never lived conventionally. Instead, I felt challenged to look deep inside and determine what is my purpose in my current role.
The result was a self-realization that I would rather muddle through the difficult period no matter how tough it could get and challenge myself to swim against the tide. As a result, I felt that I would learn a great deal about survival and would gain a new appreciation for all things in business and in life that I used to take for granted. Thinking long-term, this experience would also ultimately aid in future appreciation for wealth and provide important life-long lessons in risk assessment and wealth-preservation.
Loving to Work
No matter how challenging or difficult my career path may be, I feel blessed to be doing what I truly love to the point that I cannot decipher between work and hobby, nor feel that I ever need to take a vacation. Not everyone has the luxury of doing what they truly love. Many people feel lucky just to have a job that pays the bills and brings food to the table, and that’s all they really need out of their career. Still others wish they could afford to chase their dreams but instead are stuck in a must-have job they dread going to every day. So for those in these last two positions looking to be inspired by work rather than be dragged down by it, my motivation approach that has gotten me through the most difficult work days is to consider an alternative perspective to the meaning of work. Think about the positive value your efforts bring to others, and what positive aspects besides money, you get out of it. Appreciate what you have and what you are able to accomplish, but never forget to dream big and strive for what may seem impossible, and most importantly, always stay true to yourself and never compromise your values.
Upon this reflection, I challenge myself to stop saying that I’m busy working, and instead honestly respond to “What have you been up to?” with:
“I’ve been actively doing what I love!”