The Dark Side of Loving Your Work

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I love my work. Since I started out on my own close to 40 years ago, it’s been great. I get to do work that I love with interesting and committed people. When you love your work, you’re more likely to enjoy your days and do better quality work.

That’s hard to beat. The problem is that all that loving your work can affect other parts of your life.

There was a time when I was working instead of going to kids’ events. When they called me on it, we made a rule. If they had an important event, they should put it on the calendar. Once it was on the calendar, it was as sacred as any other commitment on my calendar.

I lost my biggest client at the time over that. He wanted to have a Saturday meeting and I told him I had a prior commitment. He asked me what it was. I told him it was my daughter’s soccer game. He gave me the explicit choice of going to the game and missing the meeting or going to the meeting. If I chose the game, he’d find another consultant to work with.

The calendar rule worked well for scheduled events. But I was still letting work come before any impromptu ones. Too many times, I’d choose work when my son stuck his head in the door and suggested we go for a burger at Big Al’s. He called me on that one, too.

I made up a sign that I put where I could see it at my desk. It said, “I didn’t start my business to …”

When one of the kids suggested to do, I’d look right at that note. I’d complete the sentence in my mind. “I didn’t start my business to miss a trip to Big Al’s for a burger.” “I didn’t start my business to not help my daughter with a science project.” The sign helped.

Work Can Become All-Consuming

If you hate your work, it’s relatively easy to ditch it for something else. But if you love your work, it’s devilishly easy to let work become your whole life. When you have a choice between anything else and work, you choose work.

That can affect your health and your relationships. You’ll miss times that will never come again. You’ll miss things that make life rich.

It’s all up to you. No one else can do this for you. You must pry open space in your life for all the other things. It’s hard. It’s up to you.

You Can Always Find More to Do

There are two basic ways people quit work for the day. The Duke of Wellington was said to finish every bit of work on his desk before he went home for the day. He went home when he was finished. You might be able to do that some days, but in today’s world, it’s not likely. You must do something else.

Quit when it’s time to quit. Then, you can go on to other things. You can decide what time to quit but deciding is easy. You must also quit when you decide. Otherwise you can always find one more thing to do.

Many of the most productive people I know have a specific quitting time. Then they honor it, no matter what’s still on their desk, computer screen, or to-do list.

Set a time to quit. Give yourself some time to try it out and see how it works. You may have to modify the time. That’s okay. Just have a time.

Some writers, like Cal Newport, suggest that you have a formal shutdown ritual. They suggest the ritual end with a specific statement. His is “Shut-down complete.”


Loving your work is a good thing.

If you love your work, it can become all-consuming.

You must pry open space in your life for other things.

You can always find more to do.

Stop when it’s time.

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