The Downward Spiral of Overwork

Today, we celebrate Labor Day–a federal holiday set aside to honor workers who helped establish our country. Businesses are closed and emails are left unread for one more day. Many observe the day with a barbecue or one last visit to the beach, as this holiday also unofficially marks summer’s end.

And while the day is a nice break from an otherwise busy work routine, there is a large discrepancy between work standards in the United States and abroad. Have you heard the terms “live to work” and “work to live”? They may sound similar, but the differences often reveal themselves in our personal lives and in our physical and emotional health.

When someone lives to work, there is no clear delineation between their work and personal lives. All of their Qi is often devoted to completing work assignments, leaving little time, room, and space for other things in life. On the other hand, when someone works to live, they work so they can enjoy the freedoms that a paycheck brings–travel, restaurants, etc. And most importantly, they segment their time to leave ample room for family and friends.

It is generally understood that Europe has a healthier work-life balance than the United States. Leisurely lunches and afternoon siestas are common, as are late dinners and celebratory bottles of wine. So what are Europeans celebrating? Is it a new job, a marriage, or a birthday? Perhaps. But often, Europeans are simply celebrating life–breathing in all of the beauty of the  world and the people in their lives.

Many Americans have a hard time imagining this work format. While it may sound lovely to take multiple breaks throughout the day, if you’re not answering emails first thing in the morning and late at night, how will you ever get anything accomplished? In the U.S., overwork is common. We arrive to work early, stay late, and eat a quick lunch from behind our desks. And while we may have the added bonus of an empty inbox at day’s end, this type of schedule  takes a toll on our health. In addition, it’s not even the most productive in the long run.

Everything you do uses Qi. Now imagine the Qi it takes to accomplish your typical work day, filled with emails, meetings, and computer work. Using this precious Qi for your “must-do” list takes away the Qi you are able to use to savor the relationships you treasure most. You end up too exhausted in the evening to enjoy the rewards of your hard work.

However, when we work to live, life takes on different meaning. Life itself is celebrated. Relationships take priority. We find better balance. So today, and every other day this week, put life first. Take time to savor your lunch break. Enjoy the flavors in your favorite bottle of wine. Connect with those you love on a deeper, more meaningful level.


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