The Work/Life Paradox


Work/Life Paradox

Work is essential to people for obvious reasons. If you don’t earn money, you can’t pay for a place to stay or food to eat. So I can see why many people put a lot of importance on getting and maintaining a job.

However, there is a hidden cost to having a job. It takes up a lot of your time. This is time you could be spending with friends, family, hobbies or any number of other free-time activities. This isn’t really anything new. But if you look closer at your work/home life in relation to the money you make and the time you take doing it, an interesting paradox comes up.

Time and the Work/Life Paradox

If you have a low to middle-income paying job, it really doesn’t take much money to maintain a place to stay, put food on the table and have some minor entertainment on the side. But on this pay scale, you’ll have to sacrifice any luxury and make-do with the bare minimum. It’s a meager existence, but it can still work.

In order to increase your lifestyle, you have to put in either more hours or get a higher paying job. This seems straight forward. Work more hours if you can at your existing job or get an additional one. If you want better pay, you will need to apply for a different position or go to school to get your credentials for that higher paying job.

However, that requires some sacrifice. In order to do this, you need to give up the time you put into your home life and put more of it to your work life. Working additional hours, getting another job or going back to school all take additional time away from your home life.

And it doesn’t necessarily end once you get that higher paying job or you graduate from school. Many higher paying jobs require 50-60 hour weeks. This could be 10-20 hours more than you were putting into your low to middle-income level job. This means you are permanently taking time away from your home life and putting it into your work life.

The Role of Money

The perverse aspect of this paradox comes when we look at it through time and money. When you have a low to middle-income paying job, you will have more free time. However, since you put so much of that money towards rent and food, you don’t have much left over to pay for anything more than cheap entertainment.

When you have that higher paying job, you’ll have much more money left over at the end of each month. However, because you are working so many more hours, you have very little time to actually spend that money on anything you want to. In the end, all those hours will tire you out so that you don’t want to do anything really. And you may just end up spending your money accumulating more things because you don’t have the time to spend your money on experiences.

In both situations, the vast majority of people end up in front of their television sets wishing they had what the other person has. The low to middle-income person wishes they had all the extra money the higher paid person has. The higher income person wishes they the time off that the low to middle-income person has.

How to Overcome the Paradox

Finding a way around this paradox can be difficult. As your pay increases, the time you spend at work also tends to increase. So you either have to settle with lower pay and more free time or higher pay and no free time at all.

But you can find some alternatives if you look hard enough. Of course, there are some people who don’t care that they have to work longer hours so long as they get that extra pay. That’s certainly fine if you are happy with that. But in general, I think most people would like to have good pay with more time off.

Researching jobs before you enter them will give you a great idea of the work/home life balance you can expect. For example, doctors and lawyers notoriously have larger pays, but extremely long days. However, many nurses can be paid really well but work shorter hours than the traditional 40 hour work week.

Looking for employment with good pay and ample free time can have an additional difficulty. In order to be happy at work, you must find something that you enjoy doing. This might narrow down your choices considerably. But taking the time to find the right job might be worth it to actually have both the money and the time to do more things you want.

If having a good work/home life balance is important to you, you need to be aware of this paradox. If you don’t make yourself aware of this phenomenon, you could either get stuck at a low or high paying job that leaves you with little more to do than watch television during your free time.
photo credit: Adam Foster | Codefor

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  1. It’s funny, when I first started my job I took very little vacation for the first couple of years. I didn’t have a lot because I didn’t have any seniority, but still I hardly took them. But a then a couple of years ago, it totally shifted for me. I have significantly more days off now and I make sure that I do everything in my power to actually take them. I’m not sure what changed for me, but I am so much happier now that I actually use these days.

    • I’m glad that taking more time off made you happier. I went through a similar phase. I didn’t take much vacation for several years at a previous job and then suddenly I started to be more vigilant about it. Now I make sure that I take as much time off as possible.

  2. I’m lucky to work in a job that I enjoy that actually puts the emphasis on just getting your work done…however long it takes. I get to work around 8:30 and leave around 4:30. If I need to leave to go to the doctor or run errands, it’s cool. Some weeks I put in 50 hours; some weeks only 30. But I’ve worked other places where I put in 60 every week and my husband does right now in the job he’s in, so I appreciate that I’m lucky.

    • You must be working in a ROWE (results only working environment). It must be great to have that flexibility. I know that taking time off to go to appointments or run errands can be hard to do in some work places. Unless I really liked what I do, I wouldn’t want to put in 60 hours a week at a job.

  3. love this post man… i also observed that as the pay/salary increases so is the expenses… i remember a few years back when i still cant afford a $3 cup of coffee at starbucks , i had a lot of savings then. but when i got promoted and started spending more on “wants” than “needs”, i didnt have any savings at all.

    aside from the financial aspect of having a job… it also has an emotional effect on a person. when i was jobless a few years back, i felt so worthless. i could not contribute anything to my family’s needs. more than earning money, i realized that work helps you feel valued in this kind of society.

    but as you’ve said, THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES, and you really need to look hard enough… ive been bumming for almost six months now and i could still contribute a little money to my family, while travelling and enjoying what i really want…

    although i dont think that this blogging thingy is really that sustainable yet, im already reaping some rewards of my last year’s effort and hopefully learn more about being a digital nomad.

    • I’ve also noticed that spending seems to increase as your pay increases. I’m not sure why that is, but I think many people go through this pattern. As my pay has increased, I also started to spend more on luxuries. It’s a really interesting phenomenon.

      I gone through periods of joblessness before too. I know what you mean about feeling worthless. But at least you’ve found something you enjoy now. It really takes a while to find one, but it pays off in the end.

  4. Hey Steve,

    I love the new look of the site my friend. Sleek and airy…room to roam!
    Good points in the post. Another thing is that if your expenditures are much less than your income, you may be able to enjoy the best of both worlds given the right income. I encourage people to break out of patterns that have held them in place. Don’t tell everyone you hate your job and then watch tv as soon as you get home. Your boss is quite content with that, but you shouldn’t be. There are many ways to take something to the next level, but they take action. Today has power but only if we want it to.

    Live it LOUD!

    • Taking action is a great first step to getting to where you want to be. I agree with you that watching TV doesn’t break you out of patterns you don’t like. It’s a trap that keeps you from getting to a better place.

  5. I work 2 jobs. Neither of them pays all that well, but my jobs are rewarding and fulfilling in their own right. Sure I don’t make much money, but and I have to work 55 hours a week, but I love my job. I love the people that I work with, the joy my job brings me and I love knowing that I’m making a difference in peoples lives. In the end, that’s what matters; not money.

    • I can see how you’d be fulfilled in your jobs if you feel that you’re making a difference in people’s lives. I read somewhere that jobs that make a difference or give people meaning bring the most satisfaction. I agree that making a difference matters and not money. After all, that’s why I’m going into teaching.

  6. That is a good point that the low income and the high income both desire what the other group has. There does need to be a balance.

    There’s the common saying that you long hard hours to get promote to management where you work even more hours.

    That’s not what I want and I’m sure most of your readers are the same.

    • I think working hard has its advantages. I’ve never been one to back away from something just because it takes a lot of work. But I hope that things could eventually balance out so that you can take the time to enjoy all the benefits of that hard work.

  7. Hey Steve,

    This post was most refreshing. There are many days when I fall victim to the pressures of working more and getting a full time job. Money is one thing but there’s also this stress to conform. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not working on a Tuesday morning. Like I’m doing something wrong. Then I catch myself starting to envy the structures and regimens of the 9 to 5 job.

    But that’s ludicrous! Instead of stressing I should be living life. Enjoying my time. Doing my hobbies. Going hiking. Getting to the beach. Traveling. Adventuring. Living!

    It’s scary how conditioned we can become by the status quo. But reading your post was definitely the perspective I needed!


    • I think you pinpointed well what it means to live life. It isn’t about working longer and harder hours at a job you don’t like. It is about enjoying your time and experiencing what the world is like outside of your cubicle.

      I also used to feel guilty about not working on Tuesday mornings. But then I realized that life is more than just your job. Finding a good balance is important so you don’t miss out on things that matter most to you.

  8. How true Steve, how true. This is something that pushes and pulls at me each and every day. Money to me is in a sense a freedom voucher or credit, and I put in the hard yards to obtain more credits for my one true passion, ‘Travel’. I never loose sight of this. A means to an end, and not the other way round.

    • That’s an interesting way to look at money. I know what it’s like to save up money to go traveling. I can see how looking at it from a traveler’s perspective that if can be a voucher to freedom.

  9. One great way to help avoid this paradox somewhat is to develop a passive income stream. I’ve been able to do this through my websites, although I earn not nearly enough to live on, and I do put some work into them every day. Still, I earn quite a lot for the time I spend on them, and the hours I put in are enjoyable to me since I love running and promoting them. I think more people should focus on a way to get an extra stream of easy, enjoyable income coming in that they can set aside for travel, retirement, or whatever they want.

    • Earning a passive income really can make a big difference. If you know what you’re doing, you can make a decent passive income online. I have a friend who owns a low-key website on appliances. He doesn’t update the site at all and relies purely on a handful of web searches. He earns about $80 a month from it. That’s really good for a site that he hardly updates.

  10. Thanks for this post. It really does make me realize how valuable time is. It is life.

    I don’t want my time making someone else rich at the expense of my own life. It’s high time that I make this life happen on my own terms. I am determined!! I will break through the work/life paradox!

    • It’s inspiring to see your determination. A life lived on your own terms is a well-lived life. There is just a limited amount of time we all have. It really is the most valuable thing you own.

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