The best manager I ever worked for told me to work less. Having just been scolded for needing to bill more hours to our clients, I was confused by his advice.
“I need you to have a life. It’s part of your job as a marketer. We need to be in the zeitgeist.”
I think about this advice often and believe I’ve shared it here with you before. But I thought about it again today because I realized in the 10 years since I got this advice, I’ve promptly ignored it.
Not on purpose, it’s just, I’m still unclear on what constitutes a “life.” What exactly did I not have?
In the corporate world, it’s easier to draw the lines between “who you are at work” and “who you are at home.” But in our world, the lines are a lot blurrier. Does my emailing you not constitute my life? Do my projects? Or is it specifically my social life that counts here? Vacations?
I think most people when they suggest one “get a life” mean vacations and social life. Which is fine for some, but even then I’m not sure it’s for me. The times I was most social and took the most “vacations,” I was the most unhappy.
Nothing lights me up more than confronting my internal demons head-on with my pen or conspiring with like-minded makers about how to change the world. I’m told, however, these do not “count.”
Solo activities apparently don’t count as having a life, either, unless they are outside. If you hike or camp alone, you have a life. If you read a book in your room, you do not have a life. If you garden, you have a life. If you watch reruns of Will & Grace alone in your bedroom wearing your baggiest shirt-full-of-holes, you do not have a life.
When my former manager gave this advice, what he meant was you should do things outside of work that are not directly work-related. He understood that the best ideas come when you’re not thinking too much about them. And he knew enough about creativity and empathy to know that going out and experiencing the world would make us better marketers.
I’ll give him those points.
But this idea that our work is not our life, I reject it.
Veto. Objection. Dissent!
Take one look at your spouse or parent or BFF right now and tell me they’re not working. Check again at 4PM. 6PM. 9PM. Still *not* working?
Cooking, cleaning, eating, bathing, parenting, caregiving, those count as work too. Emotional labor? Also, work. Scheduling? Also, work. Attending events with people you don’t like? Also, work.
Telling someone to “have” or “get” a life that is separate from work distracts us from the real problem which is this: Why is the way we spend the majority of our time not our life?
I have a life. The majority of it is working, some is fun. Much of it is solo, some is social. The line between those binaries is blurry. I think work is fun and fun can be work. I’m alone but connected and often in a room full of people and feel alone.
But it’s all my life. And the fun part isn’t more important or relevant than the hard parts. In fact, the hard parts lead to the most fun parts – certainly the fruitful parts.
Fun and life are not synonyms. Suffering and life are not synonyms.
Life is all of it. If you’d like to “be more social,” or “go to more parties,” then by all means go do that. But don’t confuse it for having a life. Because a life is all of it.
The parties, the tears on the bathroom floor, the births, the deaths, the tedious way you cut an onion, the day you decide to take a knife skills class so you can cut that onion, waiting for a red light to change to green, going for a run, drinking too much tequila, getting dehydrated after your run because you didn’t realize it was so hot outside (and you drank too much tequila).
It all counts as your life.
Pretending our work is not our life is like pretending we don’t eat food. It’s a lie. We’ve constructed a world in which the majority of our time is spent working. That is something worth examining, interrogating, and perhaps dismantling. But to suggest that it doesn’t count as “having a life” is to discount ourselves, our work, and our worth.
Our work matters.
What we do with our time is our life.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Will & Grace reruns in my bedroom wearing my baggiest shirt-full-of-holes.
PS: My How To Be Good at Marketing piece is on the first page of search results on Google for “how to be good at marketing.” !! #nottooshabby haha I didn’t realize it until I had to Google it to link here. I will now be teaching a course on how to rank on…KIDDING IM KIDDING.