Do you work to live or do you live to work?


This has been eating at me for awhile and after seeing Matt’s Work/life balance post the other day I decided it was time to discuss it.

The question is: Do you work to live or do you live to work?

In my first week of the graduate program last year I was assigned a mentor who was a former grad. At our first meeting, he asked me “Do you work because that’s your life or do you work so that you can afford to do other things that you enjoy?”. I chose the first one and at the time was absolutely horrified that anyone could believe there was anything more important than their work. I was dead set certain that I would be making a career for myself at the organization I work for and staying there for a really long time. I lived to work. It was the sole reason I got out of bed in the morning and even did work on weekends from home so that I was well prepared for Monday. I used to think that my job was my career and career was my life.

Since then, almost 2 years have passed and I no longer feel that way. A lot has happened and a lot has changed and I’ve now flipped over to the other side - I work my full time job to live now not the other way around. My co-workers are lovely, I’m well treated, I’m given almost full autonomy in my work but at the end of the day what really makes me happy are my freelancing blogging engagements and my personal projects. In early August, I launched my own blog and within three days was approached by Optimal Workshop to start guest blogging for them and that is what makes me happy. All the UX stuff I do outside of my traditional 9-5 job is what I now consider to be my ‘career’. The other day I got an email from those guys that brightened my day significantly and became pretty clear that this is what I would prefer to do.

Has anyone else ever felt that way?

It’s like my job has become a training ground for my actual career which happens when I step out of the office. Is this how freelancing begins? Or is it a conscious choice? For me it seems to be evolving that way.

Six months from now my role as a designer at my organisation is going to change due to a restructure that it’s in the pipeline and I’m likely to find myself doing less user research and more information design. Which would be ok if information design at my organisation didn’t involve taking notes for 8 hours straight (my CTS is going to love it) and populating a useless template that some exec ‘designed’ 10 years ago and thinks it’s really something. While that worries me, I know that I have my personal projects and freelancing work and will continue to do that outside of my job.

What do you guys think? I’d really be interested to hear from those who’ve gone from office jobs to freelancing.


That would be me. I have run the full spectrum from working to live, to living to work and back. When I started out programming I was at Xerox, and working for a huge, multinational corporation was great. The perks were good, the social life was great (I met my first husband there), but the work was fairly mundane. I definitely worked to live.

Then I had my kids and I left work, with no immediate plans to go back. When they were 1 (they’re now almost 6) I was approached with a job offer with SitePoint, a web development company in Melbourne (I still do work for them and it’s where I met Matt). That’s when I began community management, and found out very quickly that I absolutely loved it. I started studying the science behind it, I started going to conferences and networking. I was hungry to learn as much as I could. That’s when I realised that I was limiting myself by only working for one company, so I streamlined my contract (cut out the social media side of my job, which I didn’t love as much) and picked up contracts here and for an international agency. It was the best decision that I’ve ever made. Now I feel like I have a career, rather than a job, and the tables have turned.

I still don’t live to work. I live for my family, my friends and my hobbies, but my work has almost become one of those hobbies. I haven’t had a day this year when I wished I didn’t have to work.

So if you have the financial support to take a risk on freelancing (or, like me, you have a number of stable long term contracts) then I highly recommend it.


I think I’ve been in both camps at various points.

The sweet spot is when, like Hawk, work doesn’t feel like work because you enjoy it.

It’s like my job has become a training ground for my actual career which happens when I step out of the office. Is this how freelancing begins? Or is it a conscious choice? For me it seems to be evolving that way.

I think that for some people this is a natural evolution. If you’re partial to educating, sharing, and reflecting, then blogging is the perfect medium for you to express that—and it also happens to be an activity that helps to build your personal brand, which then increases your exposure and authority in a niche, puts you out there, and increases the chance that random opportunities will come your way (like the Optimal Workshop thing for you).

So yes, blogging can open the doors to freelancing, a new job, or something crazy like the recent workshops that Luke and I taught in SE Asia (the UXMNL team in the Philippines followed our blog and emailed us to propose flying us over to teach the workshops—it was as simple as that).

Deciding to become a full-time freelancer needs to be a conscious decision though, because it requires planning before giving notice to your job. I say this speaking from experience, where I thought I was in a good position to begin freelancing (I was, but I wasn’t well prepared for maintaining a freelance contract, and experienced some cashflow/tax hurdles that I could have avoided if I’d been better prepared). There is more to successful freelancing than being good at your chosen career, being well connected, and having an opportunity come along.

Luke and I are definitely happy to share our thoughts or answer questions on this topic if you like, Ashlea. :slight_smile:


Thanks Matt!

I’m definitely not ready to become a full time freelancer -still have so much to learn! But I am starting to reassess my career plans and discovering new and exciting possibilities! :slight_smile:


Great question Ashlea. I’ve gone from being a corporate HRer, to a freelance writer/editor and I’m so much happier. Even though my freelancing is not always “creative” (which is my true passion), it means I’m writing and honing my skills and getting involved in social media. It’s great, it’s awesome actually.

So I would say now I live to work although that wasn’t always the case. If I had to go back to HR I reckon I’d end up very unhappy. Writing is where I’m meant to be, and the editing/professional writing helps to pay the bills but it also enables me to keep my head in the “creative writing” game. Does that make sense?


Thanks Kim! :slight_smile: It does make sense, thanks heaps :slight_smile:


I know!!! I quite like them- I feel like one of my Sims lol :slight_smile:


Great question. I think ideally we all want to believe that we live to work and that our work is our passion. But this is certainly not the reality for most people, at for most people that I know. It is something worth pursuing and I would argue it’s one of the important self-reflection questions for understanding where our passions lie. There is no doubt on my mind that we’d all be more successful if we do what we love to do, but it’s hard to get there. It’s a life long goal. So maybe we should post this question above our morning mirror :smiley: