We should work to live, not live to work

Image by: Curtis Heinzl

It’s no secret we need money to live, but centring our entire lives around work is problematic for our mental health and our overall well-being, too.

From the moment we start school we’re asked the all-important question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While it seems harmless to ask a four-year-old this, the need to define ourselves based on a career becomes more urgent and stress-inducing as we get older.

Academic competitiveness and university hustle culture prepare us to enter a work environment where we’re constantly pushed to be as productive as possible, extend our working hours for no extra pay, and complete more work with fewer resources.

It’s time to question this narrative and mindset we’re conditioned to internalize. Why is this lifestyle the default? Are we really benefitting from being hyper-productive?

What used to be achievable through moderate work is becoming unattainable for the majority. Affording a home or even buying a car are becoming unrealistic goals for young generations.

On top of its effect on individuals, the environmental impacts of this hustle lifestyle are severe. Studies illustratehow high income and wealth correlate to greater consumption levels and greenhouse gas emissions. Living a mass-consumption and high-emitting lifestyle based on the perceived need to endlessly increase our productivity is unsustainable, unhealthy, and frankly, sad.

Living to work isn’t the default everywhere. In many European countries, work is not perceived as more important than any other part of life, and plenty of government policies reflect this view. Italy has mandated 20 paid vacation days a year on top of 10 national holidays for employees, and France has a law giving workers the right to disconnectafter working hours.

A four-day workweek trialin the United Kingdom recently concluded that workers maintained a better work-life balance, were happier, and less stressed. In the meantime, the 61 companies that participated saw revenue stay the same or even grow

We shouldn’t have to feel like we must constantly be working to live well. Still, this thinking is privileged as an ever-growing number of people can’t afford to work less than all the time. But it shouldn’t have to be this way.

We need a living wage and social security for all. We desperately need more mental health resources for workers, and we need to start taking workplace Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility seriously.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work a lot or dedicating your life to a career, but it shouldn’t be the ideal or default lifestyle. Owning a home or a car shouldn’t be a benchmark of success—this ‘grindset’ makes it easy to lose sight of our passions and the vibrant world around us.

We should work fulfilling jobs that bring joy and stability to our lives. These jobs should support us and give us the freedom to enjoy everything life has to offer.

It’s time to re-evaluate our toxic relationship with work.

Sandrine is a fourth-year Global Development Studies student and The Journal’s Opinions Editor.


burnout, career, Hustle culture, lifestyle change, Work

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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