Work to Live, or Live to Work?

While I was in Barcelona, Spain, I had the good fortune to share a conversation with a young Iranian who currently was running a local mosaic lamp shop. Our topic? Lifestyle contrasts… not between his culture and mine, but regarding the differences between the Spaniards and us two.

After living almost a decade in Barcelona, he had observed that unlike Spain, Iran and the USA had similar philosophies in terms of work ethics. Our countries both focus on work, fitting life and family in around wherever we can.

In Spain, on the other hand, they focus on life, and fit work in around it. Banks and businesses close down for their very frequent holidays, and close again for the weekends. An Iranian shopkeeper would prefer to cater to the tourists’ hours and remain open. The cultural difference creates a problem when Spanish employees don’t want to come to work on holidays and weekends.

“I offer to pay my employees extra to come in on holidays so I can stay open for the tourists,” the young man told me. “But, they say, ‘No. I’d rather have my time than the money. I can’t get my time back’.” He shook his head, his disapproval more than evident.

While I sympathized with his dilemma, the conversation got me thinking about how I live my life, as opposed to how I would like to live my life.

In my entrepreneurial world, I was in the process of scheduling day-long seminars for moms of teenage daughters, and weekend retreats for moms with their teenage daughters, from May to October.  But, during that time, my daughter would be moving back to the States from London. She would be living with us until her bar exam, fitting in family time around her stringent study schedule and apartment hunting. After the bar exam, she would be moving away to begin her new job, and her new life, on the other side of the country… out of reach, but not completely out of our lives.

During those few short weeks she’d be with us, I didn’t want to miss the chance to participate in my daughter’s life, but her study schedule conflicted with my business schedule.

I had a choice to make. Did I want to focus on work, and fit life and family in around that wherever I could? Or, did I want to focus on life and family, and fit work in around them?

The shopkeeper’s words echoed in my head: “I can’t get my time back.”

I decided to practice what I preach. I deferred all of the events to the following year, sacrificing the venue deposits in the process. But it was worth it to be able to spend time with my darling girl.

While she studies, I’ll work on my next book. When she takes a break, so will I. We’ll head to the gym a couple of mornings each week where we will do our separate workouts. We’ll even get to chill together with my husband a couple of evenings each week. In between, I’ll be creating prose, and planning out my business for next year.

I’m so fortunate my circumstances allow me the freedom to reorganize my life. If your circumstances are too restrictive to prioritize family time over work, I suggest you try carving out a small segment of time out of your week that coincides with your kids’ free time.

Take the family out for a treat, and go for a stroll while you reap the ripple effects produced by the time you spend together. It takes a bit of reorienting and adjusting, but it’s well worth it. You can’t get that time back. [cue Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In the Cradle]

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