Work to live or live to work?
How would you answer that question?
Most work to live proponents ignore career pursuits in favor of a fulfilling personal life. They may dislike or even hate their job, but it pays the bills and allows them to pursue their personal goals, so it doesn’t matter.
Those who live to work love their jobs. They may have fallen into their dream job, found their passion, or have a case of workaholism. Whatever the case, works takes total precedent and personal life happens when there’s extra time for it.
I’ve never really known my own answer. There’s been a time or two in the past that I’d have said “work to live” but in reality I was just in a toxic work environment. When I started working for myself, I would drop everything the moment I received a client email. It was like a rebound relationship where I went to the extreme opposite of what I’d had before, in this case “live to work.”
Lately I’ve been finding more balance between the two. I told a friend of mine it was “live to live and work to work.” Because I enjoyed each of them in equal measure, it wasn’t a case of one making way for the other.
The problem with that philosophy is that no matter how much you compartmentalize work and home life, you only have one pool of energy. As The Accidental Creative points out, when we deplete that pool of energy, it doesn’t matter what kind of tasks we were doing. There’s no energy left for home OR work.
Then I discovered one amazing, clarity-inducing phrase.
Cleverism defines a lifestyle business as one that prioritizes goals related to the owner’s desired lifestyle rather than profit. This differs from a startup, whose goal is to maximize profit as quickly as possible in order to sell off the business or regular self-employment, which often follows traditional working hours from home rather than an office.
A lifestyle business is all about you. Do you want flexibility? Choose the clients with unrushed deadlines. Do you want to travel? Buy a laptop and work from any location with a good Internet connection. Do you want time for creative pursuits or collaborations? Pick a few higher-paying clients to cover your bills or live more simply and then do what you want!
Without even knowing it, I’ve set my business up as a lifestyle business. I touched on this topic when I wrote about setting business goals for the year. Increasingly, I’ve been setting business goals to support personal goals.
How much money do I need to make in order to meet my goals? How often do I want to travel? How many hours do I want to work? Does this client seem like someone who will enjoy working with me and I with them? And so on.
By prioritizing life goals and career satisfaction over profit, a lifestyle business opens up the door to saying “no.” Being able to say no to things is incredibly liberating.
And while saying “no” sounds like a huge negative, it’s actually a positive. You won’t resent your clients if you didn’t reduce your rates to the point of not getting a return on your time investment. You won’t feel rushed and stressed if you’re able to say no to unreasonable deadlines. You won’t need to bend over backwards trying to make someone happy who was really never a good candidate for your services in the first place.
Instead, you can simply refer those people to businesses who may be a better fit for their needs and only take the work that is the best fit for yours. You’ll build stronger relationships with your clients and you’ll build a more sustainable business, without the looming threat of burnout.
So I guess the real question is not, “Can I afford to run a lifestyle business?” but “Can I afford not to?”