See if this situation sounds familiar to you.

Linda was a workaholic. As a school teacher she spent as much as 18 hours a day at the school. Her husband worked in local government which gave him the flexibility to be the primary care-giver for their children. After 20 years, Linda still loved her job, had written a book, and was teaching at the local university.

But when Linda’s husband suddenly died of a heart attack, one year before his planned retirement, Linda was understandably crushed. The day before her husband died had been her birthday and instead of spending it with him, she’d gone out with her work friends – those people she’d spent so much time with since becoming a teacher. She was faced with the stark truth that the man who’d sacrificed so much for her was gone and she hardly knew him anymore. She emotionally tumbled off a steep cliff, fraught with guilt and anger at what had happened. Without her realizing it, he’d been her foundation and now that he was gone, she suddenly had to deal with all the responsibilities that come with adulthood beyond working. Not only that, she found that his support had meant more than she understood. She no longer found any joy in work, but that was all she had. And her life was suddenly empty of meaning. It was a long time before she found any joy.

What I Learned

While I’ve changed the names in that story, it comes from an experience I witnessed first-hand. And here are a few things I learned from it:

  • A job is not life. We work to support ourselves. We don’t live to work. I recently read that in many European countries, it’s rude to ask a new acquaintance what they do for a living because they understand that their job does not define who they are. For some reason, many of us in the US have forgotten that fact.fam
  • Work is healthy. A job is a way to pay the bills. Life is family, friends, and experiences.
  • Every day we should seek for a great experience, by:
    • Reading some stimulating literature
    • Doing some good deed
    • Listening to some fine music
    • Thinking some uplifting thoughts
    • Listening to our partner’s worries
    • Talking with children
  • Time spent with loved ones is great. Time spent alone is precious.
  • Walks in nature lower stress and blood pressure.
  • Leaving work even 30 minutes early, once a week, feels awesome and improves productivity.

So take some time away from work. Often, the most important thing right now is to sit back and think about what the most important thing is right now.