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Between Work and Wellbeing: Rethinking Our Life Priorities

It could be me, the type of friends I have, or simply because I have a lot of friends, but a lot of them don't like me at all. I find my experience of the past week very illustrative of the times in which we live. Everywhere you hear that people prefer part-time work, but it seems that I am surrounded by people who are always busier than busy. Even during the weekend. Or they've been so busy during the week that they spend the weekend exhausted on the couch.


People can be too busy to forget what is important for them

Last Sunday around seven o'clock I was quietly reading a book. A chapter that took place in Barcelona suddenly made me think of a friend of mine who lives there. I put my book aside, picked up my phone, and called her. I was of course hoping for a friendly voice that would say: “Hey Ben, how nice of you to call, how are you?” The phone rang eight times before my friend answered and said, “Hey, Ben, how are you? What do you want?"


A little surprised, I stammered: “Well, um... I thought I'd call and ask how you are.” I heard a lot of typing in the background and in a restless and hurried voice she replied curtly, “Yes, right. Still working.” I tried to keep the conversation light and asked if she knew it was Sunday night, but I knew it would be pointless. The lady in question works every evening and all weekend long. “Okay, well, I'll talk to you again then… Bye, sweety. Keep up the good work!


Now I had gotten the hang of it, so I decided to call another friend. But this time I would first send a text to ask how she was doing and whether she was busy. Within two minutes I received a short message back: 'I'm at work!' That exclamation mark 🙂, what is it necessary for?


I learned from home that persistence wins, so I decided to call another friend to invite her out for a drink. She had mentioned a week before that she had little work at her beauty salon, so I thought she would probably like to get out for a while. Once again I chose the approach of first sending a text message to ask if she would like to join me. Within a few seconds the answer came: 'No, I'm tired. Lay in bed.' It is seven o'clock? What's going on in this country? I will continue reading my book.


Live to work or work to live?

If someone decides to work hard, I can only understand that. I have been working since I was nine years old and have had years where I worked 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The life of a start-up is sometimes not a bed of roses. But what strikes me is that many people seem to live to work instead of working to live.


What makes me notice that is the way they respond: curt, as if you are interrupting them with the most important thing they have to do in their lives. "It's just work, right?" That job may no longer be there in a few years, and many colleagues will quickly forget about you and all the hard work you put into it. I, on the other hand, hope to see you as a friend for decades to come and do fun things with you. Why does that work get 100% of your attention and do I get a curt answer? I'm not in need of attention, but is it really that difficult to pay a little attention to a good friend for a minute, or a few minutes, in a sweet and respectful way?


Even when I was working from 7 am to 8 pm, I always made sure to make time when a friend reached out to me. I also took the initiative to maintain contact. I think that is very human and that is why I continue to do it.


Do we pay attention to what is required or to what we want and what is allowed?

I supervise a group of 30 coaches who have entered into a partnership. During our first session I encouraged them to write down both positive and negative developments in the Netherlands that they felt needed urgent attention. This initiative gave them the opportunity to address something that they personally believed could become a serious problem if not addressed in a constructive way.


These coaches represent a broad spectrum of specializations, ranging from nutrition coaches and walking coaches to executive coaches, each with their own background, client type, and work area. Nevertheless, there was a striking unanimity among them on the biggest problem they see among their customers and non-customers alike: the increasing difficulty for people to discover what life is really about for them. There is a growing realization that people seldom reflect on their true intrinsic motivation and purpose. Instead, they are guided by what 'must' be done from a social perspective, and not by what is 'allowed' or what really gives satisfaction.

 

When I look around me and look at the experience of the three friends I described above, I can only confirm this.


Life is short, so do what you feel like

The average life expectancy of men in the Netherlands is approximately 80 years. That means that I and many of my friends can spend about 30 more summers and 30 winters together, provided we remain blessed with good health. The chance of this in my case, given my previous lifestyle, is not particularly great.


Thirty isn't a huge number, and it makes me realize that I don't want to waste time on things that aren't actually as important as they sometimes seem. Does this mean I never want to work hard again? Certainly, I like to work hard, but not in such a way that I cannot speak kindly and attentively to a friend for a minute. Nor in a way where I spend a weekend exhausted on the couch (something I have never or rarely done). I want to spend those 30 summers and 30 winters doing things that I am motivated to do and that I can do, things that fall within my purpose. For example, writing an article like this, in the hope that more people will realize what is really important to them and live accordingly.

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