On living to work, not working to live

I’ve talked before about how I sometimes feel I should cover my back on this blog.  I want it to be a place of acceptance, and a place where people can state their opinions and not feel judged. I feel, perhaps wrongly, that I should temper what I think so I don’t come across as too militant, and as a result alienate any of our readers.

But that’s not what Any Other Woman is about, and it’s unfair to assume that readers and potential long-term members of the AOW community can’t handle a strong opinion with which they disagree.  And does them an almighty disservice.

I want to talk about work.  As in, the money earner.  As in, the place most of us get up to go to in the morning, bleary-eyed and rammed into a commute.

Work is one of the most important things in my life.  Family, friends, work.  It defines a huge part of who I am and what I stand for.  We’ve talked before about how work shouldn’t define who you are.  I stayed out of that discussion (well…I didn’t really, but I tried) because unlike many of you, I disagreed with it and couldn’t find the words why.

I’ve found the words why, now.

I don’t feel like I’m being true to myself if I am not giving a large part of everything I have to give at work.  The feeling of coasting, of doing just enough to get by leaves me cold, feeling worthless.   I feel ashamed if I come home one too many days in a row knowing that I didn’t give my day at work my all.

Of course I have easy days.  Of course I take my foot off the pedal.  But I can’t do it for long.  I feel like I’m letting down not just myself, but the generations of women who came before me who would have loved the chance to work hard.  Or the millions upon millions of women in this generation who aren’t able, or allowed to work.

I’m in a job at the moment where I can get away with giving 70% and still delivering what’s asked of me.  I’m not excelling at work, I know that, and it makes me feel embarrassed.  Ashamed, almost.  And whilst I’m trying really hard to find another job, one where I can give my all, and finally feel satisfied at work,  it’s proving pretty difficult to do so.   And that is why, since last summer, I have rammed everything I have into this blog like a ten-tonne truck.   That’s why I spend  my evenings and weekends putting hours and hours in, to writing, managing, communicating, scheduling, planning, meeting, designing, creating.  Because if I can’t get that satisfaction at work, then I will find it elsewhere.  I want to be exhausted from the effort that I put in to doing something I love.  I won’t apologise for that, or be told I need to slow down, or take a break.  I know my limits, I’ll take a break when it’s all getting too much, and if I stop loving it, I’ll  stop doing it.   

I know not everybody feels like this.  I know that for many people there is a huge distinction between work and what they do in their spare time.  That they work to live, not live to work.  I know some people are unapologetic about not being ambitious, that that’s their choice, that they work just because it pays the bills, that they don’t feel satisfaction of a job well done, that they see promotion is simply a route to more money, not an affirmation of everything they aspire to be.

I will never earn lots of money.  I’ve accepted that from the start.  I’m not willing to work in the private sector, and my wages will never adequately reflect the quality of work that I do.  I’ve made that decision because it allows me to do a job that I believe in, whilst earning enough money to live on.  A job that means something.  That makes me eager to look at the paper, to see if my work is on the front pages.  That makes a difference in people’s lives, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  That lets me walk into the official’s box in the House and see my Minister reading out a speech that I wrote.  That is my choice, and I will sacrifice bonuses and pay hikes for that.  That’s my choice.

I see working hard as a right with which we are born.  I see working hard as an opportunity that many women past and present never had.  I see working hard as a privilege.  And when I hear people talking about their jobs as though they’re a necessary evil, it makes me angry.  Angry and frustrated.

I could qualify how I feel here, by saying I know we are all different, I know we all have different motivations and circumstances.  Some people are out of work and have to take whatever work they can get.  That, I know.  Some people are in a job because they have to be, and don’t love what they do, and get through the day thinking of being home,  spend  Monday to Thursday thinking of Friday.  My issue isn’t with them.  My frustration doesn’t lie with people who are in jobs they don’t love; sometimes you do have to settle in order to keep a roof over your head and the bills paid.  Sometimes you have to take second best to make sure you can keep the dream of what you really want to do alive.  That’s hard work, that’s passion, that’s not my issue.

My frustration lies with people who won’t work hard to make the most of what they have, who choose not to excel, who won’t work hard to better their circumstances, who won’t see working as a chance to push themselves, to better themselves, as a right or a privilege, but see it as a means to an end.  I see it as laziness.  I see it as a shame.

I know many of you, readers, feel differently.  So tell me so.  Do you feel this sense of responsibility to work hard, to give work your all, to be defined by what you do in your working week?  Do you feel ashamed if you coast?

Or if you just work to pay the bills and you’re happy with that, then please, let’s discuss.  I’d love to know what I’m missing.

Categories: Money and Career, Politics and Feminism, Written By Anna
65 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Cathy B
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Anna, you’ve managed to articulate exactly how I feel about work too. So unfortunately no different perspective from me! My husband and I both work in the voluntary sector; he’s at his desk by 7am, me by 8am, and we’re often both working / talking about work in the evening. We feel passionate about what we do and certainly for me, work is a huge part of my identity and defines who I am. I live my values at work and feel very lucky that I’m in a job that allows me to do that.

    I think part of the reason I’m so attached to my career is that I’ve built it up from scratch. I didn’t go to university, waitressed for 5 years, fell in to a job in the private sector which I mainly loathed (but also worked incredibly hard at and ) and then started at the beginning again when I moved to the V sector and worked my way back up. I left my job in the PS without another job to go to (I was on the verge of collapse) and they thought I was utterly mad. I was lucky in that I found something else very quickly, but I would have happily returned to waitressing if it gave me myself back.

    For me it’s about pride and being the very best that I can be (whether that’s as a waitress or whatever it may be). As I woman, I do feel this even more acutely. Whenever I’ve encountered sexism or patronising attitudes at work, it’s just made me more determined!
    With the economy as it is, I feel very lucky to be in a job that keeps me afloat and that I feel proud to do. I know there are many, many people out of work who are desperate for the opportunity to work hard and it makes me angry when I see people taking their job for granted.

    Like you, I feel slightly disgusted with myself when I’m coasting. It’s certainly when I’m at my unhappiest. I don’t advocate people working longer hours than necessary – I do because it’s my choice – but I just don’t understand the attitude of doing enough to get by.

    I’ll caveat all of this by saying that I really hope motherhood, (when it comes), will give me a different perspective – and perhaps this is when I will change my attitude. I’d love to think so, as much as I work hard I do know it is not the be all and end all. Phew – mega post – apologies! x

  2. Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Anna, this is amazing. You’ve out into words how I feel, why I’m so frustrated and lost and stuck with my career. I am very like you in that need to be pushing myself, to be fighting to be better all the time. Simply put, I am highly achievement driven and motivated. My problem is that I can’t find the job that gives me that satisfaction, I’ve been in several jobs where I’ve given my all, and sometimes slightly more, for peanuts. But I hated those jobs because I didn’t, as you say, believe in them. It made me happy to excell, but it don’t make me happy to do a job I genuinely didn’t enjoy. Whether I was kicking ass at it or not!

    I hadn’t realised before now that I have that same attitude you do, I was expecting to read this and disagree with you. I had arguments marshalled. But actually, I do agree, and all I can say is I hope you find your job (although if it leaves you less time to write like THIS…) I also hope I find a career in which I can have as much pride an satisfaction as you’ve found in your career. Everyday I feel like a failure because I still do not know where I will find that.

    Sorry for the slightly rambling post. In short, this is excellent and I am surprised to find I agree. And I am inspired to keep looking for why I want to do, because this makes me believe that when I do, it will be worth it.
    K x

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      K, it WILL be worth it. I was in a job I loved last year that I gave everything I had at AND thought was worthwhile. Long story short I had to leave it, but put simply, I’ve never been happier.

      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Thanks. Now just to continue to epic hunt for what it actually is that I want to do. Man, and I thought your teenage years were the ones full of agonising decisions about life, the universe and everything.

        K x

  3. Carly
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Great piece Anna.

    I was coasting last year. I really liked my job and it was very fulfilling. I never dreaded going into work and I loved my colleagues and the young people I was working with. However, I wasn’t working hard, I was doing really well by not doing very much. I think I did this for about a year before I started to get itchy feet and feel very frustrated and I realised that if I wanted to be challenged and do something that made me think hard every day then I would need to make some sacrifices and retrain to do it. So that’s what I did and I’m three months into it now and I am exhausted and scrutinised weekly but I am also rejuvenated and find myself freely giving my spare time to soak up all the information I can to make me better at it! I know I’m lucky that I feel like this and lucky that I was in a position to do it.

    I don’t think it was until I read your post that I really thought about what made me decide to retrain. Thank you.

    • Carly
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      I just read this back and I think it might appear that I’m telling you and anyone else in your position to quit and retrain! I’m not. I just wanted to express that I agreed with your piece and why.

      C x

      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        Carly it doesn’t come across that way at all, fear not! I’m glad you’ve had the chance to retrain, and that it’s pushing you. It sounds like a gutsy move. I think we should do a piece in the future on retraining, or going back to uni. It’s something I’d love to explore more.

        • Carly
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

          I know the perfect person to do this. She’s on my course and left a very high powered job to retrain. She has the wisest head on her shoulders and she gives the best advice and I know that she’d write the best post. I’ll see if I can convince her to get in touch.

  4. Lorna
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    *puts on politics hat* I think it’s worth keeping in mind that we are some lucky ladies on here. We’re educated and have opportunities. Being driven by your job is brilliant if you have a job you can be driven by, but I think it’s a bit unfair to say people who work to live are lazy or unambitious. Jobs like Anna’s increasingly involved unpaid internships in london, a luxury many young people can’t afford. Other’s have to find a job to support families straight away, with university seen as a luxury. Life gets in the way of career for a lot of people. I love my job, but I also know how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities I did.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Yes of course, Lorna, as said above, some people have to work to keep a roof over their heads, and bashing them is not what this is about. If we are lucky enough to be able to choose, the debate is: do we owe it to ourselves to excel?

  5. Clare
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I have a question Anna: if you and Ant won the lottery and never needed to work again, AND your chosen career was voluntary ie you wouldn’t get paid at all, would you still do it? Is there an element of being ambitious that is tied up with ‘contributing financially’ even though you’re not doing it entirely for the money? Or is it completely about loving your work?

    I’m just interested (not being confrontational, I hope that comes across) – most discussions on ‘working to live’ say very VERY few people would do the job they profess to love if they weren’t being paid for it….but perhaps there are people out there who would?

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Don’t apologise for confrontation! Good point. It’s definitely partly about knowing I’m contributing financially, although I know I could contribute more if I changed career paths. Sometimes I feel ashamed that I’m doing what I love, earning less, and Ant is doing a job that is demonstrably more skilled where he earns more.

      If I won the lottery would I still be a civil servant? Probably not. Would I still want to be involved in politics? Probably. It’s not the machinations of my job I love, it’s what it’s about more widely. If I had no earning job though, I’d still want to work hard. And I’d love to have more time to spend on the blog.

      • Clare
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        That makes complete sense. I have so much to say on this, particularly from a currently-not-working-due-to-being-responsible-for-keeping-a-human-being-alive perspective….am feeling a post in the making… Thanks for writing this A – you’ve made a lot of us stop and think and challenged what we thought we felt.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          If (when, damn it!) I win the lottery I will continue to do my job, and the other jobs I hold. They’re a part of me and something I’d not be prepared to lose.

          • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

            My problem with continuing to work if I won the lottery is that I’d feel guilty taking a paid job from someone who needed more than I did. Equally I definitely would need to do something, because I would fall apart without work of some kind of apply myself to. I know that for me it isn’t all tied up in financial contribution because I’m currently doing a research masters, and I’m still giving it 100%. Even though it is actually costing me much of our savings, and I really hate the damn thing.

            K x

            • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

              As the business is mine, I don’t have the dilemma of taking a job from someone else, but that’s a fair enough point.

              Mind you, if you’re the best person for the job… That’s an entirely different subject all together!

              • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                Yes, and to when I’ve made this argument before to Gareth he’s always come back with the answer that he’d start his own charitable business, which completely negates my argument.

                Of course, in my case I could pursue either of my potential careers as a volunteer, so I wouldn’t have a huge issue.

                K x

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          That’s K to you, C!

  6. Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    So much to say, where to start!

    I’m one of those people who is motivated to work and work HARD. I have been ever since I was old enough to work. I needed money but also I wanted a fantastic career.

    When I say work hard, I mean really ridiculously hard. Giving it my all. I’m a perfectionist and in a work context (in the two careers I’ve had) this quality becomes a negative because of the nature of the work you can never get everything done that you want to.

    It’s good to work hard but bad to be hard on yourself.

    I’ve never had a good work-life balance, the emphasis has always been heavily on work.

    I’m trying to change that now because I’ve realised LIFE’S TOO SHORT. Career achievement is one thing, spending too much time and /or headspace on work matters and neglecting family/friends is another. And what about time for yourself?

    I’m so happy at the moment purely because I have plenty of time and I’m not tied to a particular workplace, work arrangement or permanent job. Each to their own but my feeling is you can achieve many things in your life, whether male or female, and they certainly don’t have to be related to your day job. Anna, this blog has achieved so much. I for one am so glad you’ve been able to pour extra time into it!

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      In short I used to be ‘live to work’, now I’m ‘work to live’.

      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Agree,, F. Life is too short – unless the satisfaction you are deriving comes from pushing yourself. If it ever gets to the stage where you are unhinged, unhappy, then it’s time to reassess. I suppose it’s about regularly taking stock. If flogging yourself makes you happy above all else, then do it. If it doesn’t, then you need satisfaction from elsewhere too (which is probably the case for most of us!)

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Ooooh I just replied and it didn’t post. Silly phone.

          I was basically saying, even if working crazy haeosin a crazy job does make you happy, it’s not always the best thing for your life. (when I say you, I mean ‘one’)
          In my time working in telly I met too many women with regrets. Mostly forty somethings with fantastic careers but they’d never settled down and felt as though they’d missed the boat when it came to having children. Very sad.

          • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            and now autocorrect! Meant to say ‘crazy hard in a job’

  7. Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Like katielase I came in here ready to argue with you, to find that I completely (and rather boringly) agree. I have a job I hate and I still drive myself within it, I still push myself into the corners where I’ve found tiny things about it that I’m good at, and I push the living bajeesus out of those areas. In the rest of my life, i spend every second building towards the one thing I actually love and want to do.

    I think you’re more compassionate than me though. I dont care that other people there arent like me- I see it as a bonus. Less competition! At the end of the day, we are all wired a little differently.


    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Less competition, yes, agreed, but I didn’t want to come across as “my way is the only way, suck it up, readers!”

  8. Emily
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I’m at a bit of a cross roads. I do love my job (most of the time) but a good part of that is liking being good at it and feeling that I am achieving things and pushing myself and being a success, and I’m starting to feel that prioritising it is quite selfish of me. It isn’t a job where I do any “good” in a social sense so I can’t justify it that way. I’m getting to a point where there is a real bottle neck, and either I have to get my head down and really go for it (which will involve a LOT of hard work and commitment), or I will have to find an alternative in the next few years. Part of me wants to go for it just to prove I can. But it is very London centric. And now I am marrying a man who is not, and who has a vocation not a job, in which he actually does good. I am terrified that one day I will have to leave my job, if we want to have a normal married life together, and I will become a loon because I won’t have my thing that I’m good at. Easy, find another job, but what if I’m no good at it?! K has said that he will support me whatever I choose to do, but I should be considering him in all of this, not just myself and my ego. Difficult!

    Anna, I really admire you for choosing something that matters over the cash, and writing about it so honestly and eloquently.


  9. Katie
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I too feel ashamed if I coast. For a number of years, I didn’t. I worked really hard, but then I started to not enjoy the pressure of my job, to get weighed down by it, to not sleep at night, and become very unhappy. I had a break from work, and am now happier than before.

    I enjoy earning money, but most of all I enjoy earning money for my clients. I like to see an invoice from myself for £1,500, and know that my hard work has provided my client with an income stream of £10,000 per year for the next ten years, or compensation of £25,000 from the utility company, or a good agricultural rent increase.

    I used to differ to you, over working for the private sector. When I have had public sector clients, I felt they were not trying to get best value for money, as it’s not their own money, and noticed so much waste in the public sector, and people doing half jobs; and at the time it annoyed me. I despaired of the fact that so many politicians are career politicians, and havn’t worked in the private sector. I found the public sector inefficient, and didn’t like the colossal size of it. I considered the private sector as creating wealth, and paying the taxes to employ the public sector. I didn’t object to the teachers, social workers, doctors, nurses, binman – it was the amount of unnecessary ones, I despaired of, where you had three people doing a job, that I considered one person in the private sector would be employed to do.

    I’ve had a rethink of these views over the years, and have become much less conservative. I’ve also met a lot of very hard working efficient public sector employees. Whereas you would never work for the private sector, in my early 20s, I would have never worked for the public sector.

  10. Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    *rubs hands*

    I’m going to be the one to disagree. In principle I’d love to be like that but in reality it’s simply not the case. I’ve had too many experiences where I’ve put my all into something and been stung. Last summer I came ridiculously close to having a total meltdown because I was so frustrated that I was trying to achieve things at work and other people were constantly placing obstacles in my way. I’m trying to focus all of my hard work into other areas, like finding another job, but it’s hard and frankly I’ve had enough of rejection. In the meantime it’s living for the weekend and hoping for my premium bonds to win.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I have to agree with some of this, I think the problem is that it’s fantastic to be the kind of person who gives their all to their job, and lives to work, but it relies on you finding the right job.

      From experience if you give your all to a job you don’t enjoy, it sucks the joy and the life out of you. It makes you stressed and unhappy, and unfulfilled. In that situation, I’d rather coast. The ideal would be to have your dream job, and be able to give your all to that but the world is not ideal, nor is it a dream.

      K x

      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        What katielase said! I completely feel for you Amy, giving your all to something that leaves you with ZERO sense of accomplishment at the end is the flip side, and nobody who is passionate about what they do would be able to sustain this. The whole point, both yours and Anna’s, is about caring that you’re doing good work.


      • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        That’s exactly it Katie – coasting for self preservation, and looking for things I CAN give 100% to.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          Oooh, Amy, did you get my email about a new job?

  11. Mahj
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Yes yes yes! I agree with you Anna, wholeheartedly. Coasting, mooching and not working at all was what I was doing in my last job. Hence why I kicked myself in the ass (metaphorically) and got out there and got myself a new job. Now im working hard, all day every day. Im exhausted by the end of every working day, but in a good way. I like pushing myself like this. It makes me better at my job and makes some feel good about myself.
    Considering how much time we spend at work, I think its really important to be in a job where you spend that time well.


  12. Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I’m with you on this, Anna. Even as an employee, I felt compelled to give my all so that I could be proud of the work I did. The money and recognition were nice by products but ultimately, for me, it was about knowing I’d done the very best I could.

    Now that I have my own business, and work with several others, it’s even more important that I give everything I can to them. I not only invest time and money in my ventures but, as twee as it sounds, I invest part of me and all the things that matter to me. As I’ve gained more experience, I’m far better at managing my work/life balance and ensuring that I make adequate time for my family and friends, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to do my very best in the workplace.

    You’ll go far, Anna, I’m sure of it!


  13. Anon
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Katie, the beginning of your post sums up exactly how I feel right now. I hate my job. But I think one of the reasons I hate it so much is because I’m not excelling anymore.

    I had to leave school before finishing my A levels because my family broke down. I had to get a job, so I did, luckily it was one which led to sponsored training (full time work and part time study for 5+ years = hard work!) and from which I now have a professional qualification which should be leading me towards a bloody good job. But I just don’t like it anymore. I feel trapped because I don’t have a degree and actually don’t know what else I would want to do anyway. I have the brains, I was a straight A student pre messed up family.

    Anna, your post has made me stop and think about what I’m doing here. The job I do is one which I really shouldn’t be doing if I don’t love. My clients are not getting the service they deserve and the more I hate myself for it the less motivated I become. Vicious circle if ever I saw one.

    I had become, because I simply had to, a hard and ambitious worker and right now I’m just not myself.

    So thank you, for really shoving this issue at me and making me face up to what the eff I’m doing. I’m one of the people you see as lazy right now, and that’s got to change.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Anon, as happy as I am that this post has made you take stock, the comments here have made me realise that saying I see people who coast as “lazy” is unfair, there are a whole bunch of different reasons why someone might coast. But if what you are doing is preventing you from being a hard and ambitious worker, and that’s what you feel you owe it to yourself to be, then I sincerely hope you find what you want to do.

  14. Sarah
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Quite a timely post. I’m currently in a private sector role, but have been here for seven years so I am coasting a bit… and I do feel that sense of shame you describe that I’m not giving it my all and not feeling exhausted at the end of the day. I have friends who are working really long and stressful hours to progress in their careers and I feel a mixture of relief that I have a nice work/life balance, but weirdly also envy at their ability to really go for something and for the rewards they will get. I also panic that I should do more with the spare time I do have!
    Ironically, I’m now applying for a similar role in the public sector (!) that offers more money, better benefits and hopefully and most importantly, a new challenge. I think a challenge and learning something new are more important to me than just working hard for the sake of working hard if that makes sense?

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Absolute sense. And probably something I should have addressed in the post. It’s not just about worknig hard for the sake of it or being the “office martyr” (I hate them, alright I KNOW you were checking emails at 11pm, you don’t need to drop it into conversation!) Challenge and learning something new are findamental to the human condition and perhaps THAT’s what this is about.

  15. Fee
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Whilst I agree to an extent, I don’t agree that those who choose not to push themselves and excel at work have some sort of laziness. For many people I know, work is a necessary evil and they put all of their effort into their personal life. And these aren’t people who are unskilled or stuck in a low paid job- they simply just want to work to earn money.

    I think if you’re coming from a place where you love your job/field or you have something you are striving for it’s easier to feel that everyone should be pushing themselves but in a ‘live and let live sense’, I wouldn’t like to judge anyone’s attitude to work without knowing the full story – which is so often different to what is presented publicly.

    I hope this doesn’t sound critical- is just my take on things!

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      I agree Fee, many of the happiest people I know are like that.

      In at number 2 http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Not critical at all! It’s what I asked for at the end of this post – a reason why someone wouldn’t choose to put their career as the primary thing they wanted to give their all to. I know this hugely simplifies things but it does show how everyone has a different motivation, doesn’t it. Because I feel lazy not giving my career my all, I assume others ARE lazy if they do it (I know that”s wrong, I know it’s my own prejudice, just trying to be honest), but it may well be that they work as a means to a far better end (for them) – giving their family their all, or a sport they do, or something else.

  16. Sandra C
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I was on a job where I gave my all and was well rewarded for it. I’m now in one where I gave my all and was overlooked and had credit for my work taken by others. I’ve now stopped giving my all. I love the work (I’m an analyst) but hate my job. I can’t move, as the South of England is knee deep in redundant chemists. So I do a good job, I produce good work. Still better than most. But my energy is now going into new friendships and our home. And you know what?? It feels good.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      This has made me thing of something else as well – how different times and circumstances in our lives will give us different priorities. Living to work may be my priority at the moment, but it’s wrong to say it’s “in my DNA” (as a first draft of this post did!), because how do I know that, if I am lucky enough to have children one day, my “live to work” philosophy may not take a back seat?

  17. Rachel
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    For me, happiness is the key here.

    I’ve been in jobs that demanded more than in my current role and I’ve not been happy. Not because they demanded more, but because of the type of place it was. I am now in a less demanding role (most of the time, though it does still have it’s moments!) and I love it. I never have that Sunday evening feeling. I go to work happy and I come home happy. That’s not necessarily because I’ve given my all though, it’s more to do with knowing I am good at my job, and that I enjoy it – to a certain degree… I don’t think that makes me lazy or unambitious.

    Working where I do allows me the lifestyle I live and enjoy. But that wouldn’t make me nearly as happy in life if I worked somewhere that didn’t contribute to that feeling. So for me, I work to live, with a splash of living to work!

  18. Abi Lady HarHar
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Great post and really thought provoking for me who is currently at work, with tons to do but yet I am on here commenting!

    Me: I work hard sometimes and I take my foot off the pedal at others… I have definately been coasting in the is job but then other areas work my socks off…. its strange… I have to admit that since getting engaged I have found that my procrastination tendancies have increased (seriously, I blame all you lovely and very different blogs, so much time to waste!)

    My personal life is more important to me than my work life BUT I wish I had a job I cared more about.
    I wouldnt do this job if I wasnt paid. But what would I do? Now that is a question I wish I could answer! I know I need to find something that fits better with my values, that I feel makes a difference to someone, somewhere… But once you are paid a little bit of dosh, its hard to go backwards and retrain or get the necessary experience to start over. So I guess I fundamentally agree with you, because I think work that doesnt sit with your values, or your natural abilities and interests will ultimately bring out certain undesirable qualities (increased procrastination being one of them). On a happier note, my boy was in a job for 3 and half years that paid peanuts AND he hated it, now he works for a charity, in a job he should have trained for a long time ago, and he works very very hard BUT loves his job (most of the time).

  19. Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    a really timely discussion – probably lots of us are in the times of our lives (mid 20s/early-mid 30s I’m guessing from many comments) where we are making lots of decisions about what kinds of professional women we are or want to be.

    One thing I’ve been struggling with a lot lately is how to feel okay with not loving my job, or to feel my priorities shifting. Like you Anna, I’ve always been really happy to feel defined by my life as a professional. I chose a really intense path (academia) that requires vigilance and constant maintenance (it’s a bit hard to coast until you get very senior, though god knows I do have days where I’m not exactly the picture of productivity). Increasingly, and maybe even more so since I’ve been in a happy relationship though it feels weird to say that, I feel the pull of other parts of my life. I feel less like I want to stay late or get in early, to go to that conference or work on another paper.

    And I’d like to say I feel good about that, that it’s the natural progression of things… But really the part of me that has been so defined by work for so long, that feels acutely all of the things I’m not doing at work more than the things that I am, well that part of me feels terrible about the shift towards other things. Much as I gain from being happy in other parts of my life, I feel like I’m losing a bit part of what makes me me. To say nothing of the fact that it also hugely impacts on my professional development. Every time I don’t work on a paper at the weekend because hubs and I want to enjoy the ridiculous sunshine in London, I’m actually sacrificing a bit on my ability to get the next job. It isn’t that clear-cut of course, but the more I want to have a life, the less likely I am to be able to continue in my current job. I want to be okay with that, and maintain my work/life balance and if it doesn’t work out professionally I’ll look elsewhere, but I am not sure I’d recognize or even like myself if I wasn’t someone who really dedicated myself to work.

  20. Liz
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, this has got me thinking…
    I work in the property industry. I used to love my job, I loved having an influence on our surroundings. After graduation I worked in the public sector and it was great, but there was so little in the way of career progression that I left after 3 years to join the private sector. This was an amazing move and has completely influenced how my life has turned out.

    However, the recession and everything associated has had such a major impact on my work that it has taken the enjoyment and satisfaction out of it. It has made work extremely money orientated, which is not what motivates me. In my ideal world I would take the experience I have gained in the private sector and return to the public, where I could use this to really immerse myself in doing the work for the sake of work, rather than to make a profit. Unfortunately, the economy means that this is just not an option, there are no public sector jobs left.

    So I find myself in a stalemate situation, where I am ready to leave and do what inspires me but there are just no opportunities to do this. It does lead to ‘coasting’, but it also means that for the moment I have much more time for life outside of work, which is definitely something to make the most of!

    • Anon
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      I worked in property management. I enjoyed it for first few years, and worked so hard. I recall going on holiday the once, getting home at 2am, packing and then driving us to the airport, after no sleep. I had so much to do, just to take a week off.

      We’d always had our fee targets, which I always aimed to exceed, but with the recession, and the agency and commercial sides not doing so well, and our clients taking longer to pay bills, it got worse. As the redundancies started, my in tray just got bigger and bigger, till I wasn’t coping.

      I hope you find what you enjoy. I thought about retraining, but costs was a limitation, after I’d already got one degree and MRICS etc.

      Good luck.

  21. Rach M
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I have been mulling on this all day since I read it on the bus in this morning – really thought provoking stuff Anna! I hated a previous job I had in the private sector where I coasted and didn’t see any point or ‘good’ to it, so I changed it. I’m now in a role in the charity sector which if truth be told I love (I’d never even had cause to think of it like that, but thinking of my old job makes me realise I really do.) I have a tendency to settle into jobs and stay for a long time. Does this make me lazy and unambitious? I hope not, although it sounds like it! I work really hard and I am a perfectionist. As such, I always give myself a really hard time and while I thrive on being busy I am well aware of the factor my character plays in all this. I need time out. I need to have a life away from work so that I don’t melt down. We’re all different in this respect but for me, not having Sunday night fear is a really big deal. I know this is personality based and we’re all different but I’m not the sort of person for whom it’s healthy to be working all the time. I already put myself under a lot of pressure and need to draw those perimeters around my life, I don’t want to think that by not doing so I’m being lazy. I know here we’ve largely stuck to talking careers and paid work but I do a lot of voluntary work which gives me great reward and which I love. I suppose what’s important here is the value of your work to you – as it’s different for everyone.

  22. Angela
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Really thought provoking post – very interesting stuff Anna and a great read.
    I haven’t posted on here before although I’m a recent addict!
    I’m in a slightly different boat, my career meant a huge deal to me and I was one of those people who worked crazy hours, most weekends and didn’t often stop to take a breath. I enjoyed it, I thrived under the pressure and loved the sense of achievment that came with it.
    Unfortunately a few years ago, a health problem I’ve had since I was a child escalated and became a daily problem, I had to take some time off work for surgery, things progressed…cue more surgery, more time off and I felt like I wasn’t achieving my best anymore, I was desperately trying to juggle and it wasn’t working. After quite some time I came to the frustrating conclusion that I needed to change my job, sadly I didn’t do the kind of job where you could just reduce your hours, it was very much all or nothing.
    I’m now in a job that I quite enjoy and I do work hard but the one thing that has changed is I now very much work to live. Being unwell made me realise that it’s all very well to work incredibly hard but if you don’t have the energy or feel well enough to enjoy time with your family and friends then what’s the point? Something had to give and for me, it was work. I know that I don’t push myself and sometimes feel guilty about that but actually, I’ve learnt to value work as something that doesn’t determine who I am.
    Really interesting post

  23. Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    At the moment I’m not working. And I find it SO hard.
    But previously, I have always been under-employed. I would give my all for the first few weeks, learn everything, do really well and within a couple of months start to get bored.
    And then? Then I would stop trying, because in every job I had proven there was nothing else for me to do. I got to the point in one job where what to start with had taken all my day and then only just been completed, was done, dusted and over with in less than 2 hours. I often wound up with up to 6 hours to do nothing with.
    And it was so demotivating. To the point where I stopped doing many of the things I was meant to do, partly because “Oh well, I’ll have time to do that later”.

    I want a job where I love it, and I give my all to it every day, coming home feeling like I have achieved something. I managed to have it for about 6 weeks in a temping role. Apart from odd days, thats IT for my entire career so far, and I’ve been out in the full-time workforce for 8 years now.
    Its starting to get me down…

    • Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Basketcase, it does grind you down, doesn’t it…there’s such a strong link between engagement in a job and motivation. I’m pretty sure a lot of it is having the right manager, who will pull you up when they see you’re coasting. The right manager for YOU, that is, which of course is different for everyone. Part of me finds it difficult to respect a manager who can’t see when I’m not being used to my full potential – which I KNOW is ridiculous – because it’s my responsibility to ask for more work! But I lose the motivation to do so for exactly the reason you say above- because there’s always time to do it later. What a cycle.

  24. Rowan
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    A great post Anna! I have much to say on this: I used to be totally live to work, right now I’m totally work to live and hopefully soon I’ll find a job with some balance!

    Last year I had a job in the charitable sector I loved, was good at and gave my all to (working at 3 am wasn’t unheard of and I was travelling away from home basically every week so I more or less gave up a home social life) but my boss became a complete nightmare (female, slightly older, pretty much saw me as competition so did her best to stifle my career – anyone else been there?). That sucked the satisfaction out of the job, nearly ruined my relationship and turned me into a nervous wreck. In the end I quit with nothing to go to and promptly became a much happier person.

    I spent a few months unemployed which were difficult – I went from having a really strong definition of myself as someone excelling in a really interesting role in an area I was passionate about to someone who wasn’t doing much of anything.

    In the end I very deliberately got a short term job that is just a job as I figured out I have so much else going on in my life right now (getting married next month, then planning to move abroad) I don’t need to define myself by my job. My job right now is very 9-5, something I’ve never done before, I can do it fairly easily (people think I’m really good at it when to me I’m coasting) and I can honestly see the attraction. Not having all your thoughts taken up by a job but still being able to pay the bills is quite nice.

    The last year has opened my eyes to why people take the career choices they do and made me a lot less judgmental of other people’s choices. I don’t think this type of job is for me long term, I’m too ambitious and competitive to coast for long but I can see how people get comfortable in roles where they don’t have to try too hard/push themselves out of their comfort zone.

  25. Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post Anna, but I’m obliged to disagree.

    My job is perhaps slightly unusual in that if I’m not giving my all, if I take my eye off the ball, the consequences are life threatening for the patient, and career ending for me, even extending to charges of manslaughter or imprisonment, not just feeling lazy.

    Secondly, my job does define me in an inescapable way. It’s my title, free for all to see and everyone who meets a Dr already has a ready-made perception of you. Add to that that in my practice area or community, I am their Dr. Everyone owns a little piece of you. And you can never leave it behind, come hell or high water, I have a duty of care, at the roadside, on a night out, on holiday.

    All that said, work is not the most important thing in my life. I don’t ever want it to be and I refuse to be defined by it, which I why I write about gardening and manicures and food and frocks. In fact I spend a considerable amount of time making sure that it isn’t! Losing my Dad at thirteen made me realise what was important in life and now my job reminds me that every day. As important as my patients are, the most important person is my family, and me. Because if I’m not happy, I can’t do my job properly. If I work too much, listen to too many problems, I’m no good to the rest of the people I have to see, be they more patients or my poor husband at the end of the day and no-one likes a grumpy GP!

    I can also offer perspective on the current focus of your attentions, this wonderful blog. We’d all be worse off without it, but having been in your position, working so hard for something, for success, I know I’m a lot happier now that I actually experience my life than the success of RMW ever made me.

    All your arguments stand Anna, we’re lucky to have the opportunities to be educated women, work, excel. Its great that you’re happy in your job and I don’t for a second suggest you give up to move into the Private sector, rake it in and spend weeks of the year on your private yacht while your empty soul rots. But if you knew, for example you’d be gone at 45, would you carry on living for work, or would you make sure you left at five (rubbish example as I work far longer than that usually…) got to bed at the same time as your husband at night and enjoyed a lie-in with him on Saturdays instead of getting up to blog? Would we all put twitter and our phones down when we had a catch up with friends and savour the moment a little more?

    As Rachel said, it’s really about what makes you happy and balance, I think.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely agree, Rebecca. It is about balance if I look back in a years time and think I’ve lost lifes simple pleasures, then I will slow down. But right now, at this time in my life I’m happy with my priorities. Like I said in the comments, this may change next week, next month, next year. But for now? Hard work is what I want to do and I’m lucky to have a husband and family who support that x

  26. Holly
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    But is your 70% everyone’s 70%? If you are achieving everything that is expected of you in your job, but not having to work yourself into the ground – not coming home physically and mentally exhausted, then why is that a bad thing? 

    If you did give 100% at work (which in my experience of people who beat themselves up about achieving at work, means working early, late and at the weekends) then you wouldn’t have any time for the things that you do love. Would you be able to fully commit to writing this blog if you gave 100% at work? 

    I think having a passion in life is important for everyone. I think ideally everyone would have at least one thing that they truly love, feel passionate about and can immerse themselves in, but I don’t think that has to be work. 

    If having a work life balance meant rocking up to work at 9, messing around all day, then leaving at 5.30 to sit in the pub, it wouldn’t be something I would strive for. But if it means achieving all that you can within the parameters of your contracted hours and job specification, then turning your computer off, and spending time doing whatever else it is that you love, then I don’t think this is lazy. I think it’s admirable……and something I have to get a whole lot better at (having left the office at 11.30 pm today in an attempt to give it ‘my all’).

    • Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Holly, I absolutely know what you’re saying, and I certainly don’t think that working long hours is the only way to work hard – the job I was in last year that I loved had decent 9-6 hours and I still worked to my full potential. And neither am I saying it’s a bad thing to want to chill out after work – I often want to do it! Perhaps I didn’t get this across properly in the post but I think it’s about having a work ethic and being driven by succeeding – and enjoying working as much as I enjoy chilling out. I would never flog myself in a job I hate for the sadistic pleasure of “working hard”!

  27. Zan
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I’ve read this post a few times now and have been mulling over what I can contribute – esp. as a lot has been said!

    • Zan
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Oops – pressed ‘post’ too soon!

  28. Zan
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I’ve read this post a few times now and have been mulling over what I can contribute – esp. as a lot has been said! I think for me, a lot of it boils down to how much your job is tied in with your happiness. Maybe that’s the difference between working to live and living to work? This has been particularly relevant for me recently as I’m starting a new job in a few weeks. I consider my work to be a career rather than individual jobs, it’s what I trained for, it’s pretty specialised and apart from part-time jobs as a student and volunteering, it’s the only real job I’ve ever done. And it’s important to me, it’s not all of who I am, but a big part of it, of how I define myself.

    So yes I work hard, very hard and it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. And contributes to my happiness, so at times when I wasn’t happy it really made me look at my chosen career and think about whether it was the career or job that was getting me down. And it’s generally been the job. It’s far from the only thing that contributes to my overall happiness, that wouldn’t make me a very rounded person! But it has brought home to me how important it is for me to love what I do.

  29. Posted April 6, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Fascinating discussion and perspectives in the comments.

    Prior to picking up blogging as a full time career, I had become a ‘coaster’ – not through my own design, but because of changes in my employment circumstances and job description that left me confused and unsure of my role. As a result, I became deflated and demotivated and found myself, in my spacious airy office on my lonesome, coasting most afternoons along. And like you, this is precisely why I worked my backside off to get my own blog to a position I could make it my full time job.

    And what a full time job it now is – bringing me a steady income and so many exciting opportunities. There is definitely no coasting in my life anymore. But this coast-free work existence comes with a new set of conditions that Rebecca so eloquently describes in her comments above. I actually have much less quality time with my family than I ever have done now. My relationship has taken a hit because of this and I don’t get to spend anywhere near as much 1:1 time with my children as I’d like to, because I’m working my ass off to move my business forward, to establish firm business roots, and secure a future through my blog. It has on occasion started to feel like I’m living *just* to work, despite how much I adore my role, my blog and all the wonderful opportunities it brings to me. And that can make me sad and feel like I’m missing out on so much else in life.

    I think Rebecca hits the nail on the head. It is always a case of balance and striking a harmonious chord between the work, and non-work aspects of your life. I need to work on that, so that this coast and ‘shame’ free existence I have sought out so hard brings me more reward in terms of true happiness; time to be with my family and time to truly engage with my children and watch them grow up and enjoy them hitting all the usual milestones, before it’s too late and I miss out. I can’t keep saying to them ‘just a minute, Mummy’s busy working’. If I stopped loving it, I’d stop doing it too, but I DO love it, that’s the thing, I love my work so very much, I give my all and then some. Maybe coasting along a little every so often aint so bad – even taking your foot off the pedal entirely every once in a while so that you can stop and appreciate life and all that you have that sits outside the realms of ‘work’. I sure as hell know that as much as I adore my job, if I don’t suss out this work/life balance thing soon I’ll be burning out and good for nothin’ and nobody. And that makes no sense at all.

    Really thoughtfully written post Anna xXx

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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