Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Your Goal Should be Contribution, not Happiness

This will appear on a week from tomorrow but I thought you might like an advance look.

Update: HERE is the link to the article on AOL, and it's been reproduced in a number of outlets including Jim Cramer's The Street, but I like the version below slightly better. 

Work-life Balance is Overrated
Your goal should be contribution, not happiness
by Marty Nemko

Most people view life's goal as to be happy. I believe that's misguided.

If the goal is happiness, you could, for example, spend all your time gardening, watching comedies, playing video games  having sex, etc. Yet if people did that, the planet would be far worse: patients would die, homes wouldn't get built, the Internet wouldn't have been invented, etc.

Even though Mother Teresa was sometimes far from saintly, she didn't work in the stench of Calcutta streets, ankles bitten by scorpions, because it made her happy. She did so because she realized that helping humankind was far more important than her being happy. Cardiologists who choose to work nights and weekends to keep more patients alive realize their life is more meaningful than if they had opted for the vaunted work-life balance. Even the supposedly lowly payroll clerk who, after the standard work week, takes work home to ensure that everyone is paid accurately and on-time is living a far worthier life than is someone who diverted that time to recreation.

And as I said in my recent interview in Business Insider, contrary to what advocates of work-life balance claim, long work hours do not lead to burnout. Indeed, as long as you're doing work you're good at and believe in, you'll likely be more energized from long work weeks than if you spent the discretionary time playing sports, watching the boob tube, or the current fad, yoga.

I'll be 63 years old next month and, since I was a teen, have worked 60 to 80 hours a week. I cannot claim to be a happy person. Like my father, I believe I'm constitutionally inclined toward mild sadness. But I know that my life has been more worthwhile for having spent workweek hours 40 to 60+ having helped 4,000 career counseling clients, written seven books,  over 2,000 how-to and public-policy articles and blog posts, plus myriad other contributions. Yet because we're awake 100 hours a week, there has still been sufficient time to have been happily married for 37 years, the father of a well-adjusted successful child, and to have become a professional-level pianist, an award-winning amateur play director and play sports or hike at least 45 minutes a day, six days a week.

I will continue to work long hours until I drop in the service of things I believe will make the world better. I do want to drop dead at this keyboard. A silly canard is, "No one ever died wishing they spent more time at the office." Indeed, most of the most contributory people I know and I want to work 60+ hours a week as long as possible. That's the main reason CEOs continue working long after they've made enough money to last three lifetimes.

As Isaac Asimov, who had written or edited more than 500 books(!) said when asked, "What would you do if you knew you had six months to live?" He said, "Type faster."


Deborah Boller said...

Isaac Asimov also said, "I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn't, I would die." It seems reasonable to speculate that he would have "typed faster" if he only had six months to live because he loved to write, not because he felt compelled to put in 60-80 hours of work a week.

Anonymous said...

I was unemployed for two years due to major health problems (I started working again six months ago), yet they were the happiest two years of my adult life. I lived very simply, not spending much unnecessary money, yet I enjoyed sleeping in, savoring coffee on my balcony, spending days reading on the beach, and spending a lot of time with friends and family. I went to museums and discount A's games. I wrote a blog, trying to help people who had the same medical condition. I was quite content with simple things and did not feel deprived because I couldn't buy material goods. Now that I am working, I no longer sleep well, I feel a constant low-level angst, and I shop to fill a void that I wasn't experiencing when unemployed. I constantly look forward to my next vacation, instead of enjoying the moment. My work, like many people's, is unchallenging, repetitive, and not very important, so I don't get meaning from it. I do it because it pays me and because it works with my medical conditions. So I get meaning from all these other things in my life...relationships, nature, moving at a relaxed pace, reading, etc. The contributions that I feel good about are the ones I do on my blog, answering people's medical questions on a Facebook page about a surgery I had (and they are thinking about having), helping friends and family with their problems, etc.

Marty Nemko said...

Great comment. I love intelligent disagreement.


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