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Learn how to work to live,not live to work

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Every time I get on an airplane I inevitably hear these three questions, "Hi, how are you today?" "Are you going home or to work?" "Really, what do you do for a living?"

No one ever asks me, "How does your job add to your living?" Stay with me.

The older I get (and that awareness seems to be accelerating with age), the more I am switching from living to work to working to live.

I am convinced that transition has nothing to do with the size of a 401(k) or a stock portfolio. I'm making the switch because life, when you distill it, is not what I do, but who I am.

I recently walked with my older brother, Bob, through 6 1/2 months of losing his life to pancreatic cancer. In the terror and tears of his death, he taught me, again, how to live. And living, he taught me, is not consumerism.

Living is not collecting stuff in attics, garages and storage sheds. No, living is savoring the milliseconds of days, months and years when we learned, laughed and loved. In the words of Joseph Campbell, living is "following your bliss."

So here is a new question for airplane and coffee-break conversations, "And what do you do to follow your bliss?"

A significant part of my bliss is work. I love what I do for a living, but my work is not the totality of my living. My life, and yours, must be more than a job.

Obviously, my point is balance. As a matter of fact, I choose to see my work as part of my living with the amalgamated term "lifework." I do not want to get to the moment when I am sucking my last breath with regret; regret that my work ruined the quality of my life. In other words, my work, as a corporate educator and professional speaker, should be a tributary feeding my bliss.

I am convinced that toxic workplaces are populated with people who live to work. In these 21st century labor camps there is no fun, fulfillment or fantasy. Work is the bottom line; the essence, the meaning of life.

Now, I can hear you at the other end of my Toshiba, "That ain't me!" Well, how about taking my live-to-work pop quiz? How would you answer these three questions?

Where is the center of intimacy in your life? Intimacy is not just smashy lips and nibbly ears. Intimacy is the place where you get filled up on the inside.

In my professional history, I have had the privilege of sitting with people at the moment of their death. There has not been one time when someone has expressed the regret, "I wish I had taken more time to empty my 'in' basket."

If there is regret, it is that more time and energy should have been spent with the people who matter most the folks at home. When work becomes an addiction, the center of intimacy moves from the kitchen table to the conference table.

On vacations and holidays do you continue to work in your mind? Our exhaustion is often mental, not physical. Are you always strategizing and problem-solving even when your body is not present at work?

Giving ourselves permission to play and not be in control is healthy. The bliss may be allowing ourselves to be a child again without guilt.

When you play sports, is it essential that you win? Those of us who live to work have a very hard time with this word losing.

Every once in a while I will get paired up with an intense winner on the golf course.

These people have wrist calculators to keep track of their score (and mine). They possess wind meters, clubs that cost more than my car and an attitude that would make Oscar the Grouch wince.

Excuse me, it is just a game! But to the live-to-work person, it is not a game; it is a passionate crusade to win. If you cannot lose with grace, you're in trouble.

Well, how did you do? Several months ago, I flunked my own test.

I love what I do for a living, but what I do is not the sum total of who I am. Thanks, Bob.

(Dr. Cal LeMon solves organizational problems with customized training and consulting. His company, The Executive Edge, can be contacted at his Web site,

by phone at 889-4040 or e-mail at

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