I think at some point, we all have to come to a decision in our life about certain priorities in regards to our lifestyle and workplace… live to work, or work to live. One of these, it seems, must always come before the other. We can either choose to live for our work, where our lifestyle, location, and family must conform to the demands of our job. Or, we can choose to set a way of life, and find an occupation that supports that life. There are some of us who choose our career, or because of our career we have no other option. Others of us don't really care what we do, as long as it supports our life. Police and lawyers don't have much room outside of their work, and snowboarders and surfers are notorious for holding temporary jobs that allow them to spend more time riding waves of water or snow.
I don't think that one is better than the other, and I don't think that one has a better chance of attaining financial happiness. I do think, however, that whatever choice is made will drastically impact ones finances, as it alters ones' priorities.
Live to Work
There's a certain type of personality that always seems to be driven. It doesn't matter whether they are running a multi-million dollar multinational corporation, or the neighbourhood bake sale, they are internally motivated to get things done. Not only do they want to accomplish things, they want to do it quickly, efficiently, and on budget. If this type of person is suddenly without a goal, completion date, or finish line, then they will find one and make it their next project. Often associated with the type A personality, this type of person can very easily become a workaholic whose very existence can be boiled down to their profession. They live to work.
Following your career might take you places that you normally wouldn't go. It may require that you move across town, or across the country, or even to Germany or New Zealand. It may ask you to work odd hours, or long hours. It may ask you to be away from your family for weeks, or months at a time. However, this may have been something that you have been dreaming about since you were a child. It may be something that is a temporary but necessary step towards reaching your dream job, and so you make the sacrifice of living where you want, or raising your kids where you want, because that is what is required of you.
Work to Live
Another way to live is to find something in your life that you love more than anything, and make sacrifices in order to have it. This can be anything from being a stay at home mom, to travelling the world, to living in a ski resort or in Paris. If your life's main priority is to stay at home and raise your kids in a good neighbourhood, then you won't mind staying at a lower paying job if it means you get to stay in the city that you want your children to grow up in. It might not be the best choice financially, but it is the best choice for you because you are working only to support your life, not for the sake of working. If you want to travel the world, then you might decide to get a job planting trees or fighting fires. Difficult jobs that require incredible hard work and sacrifice over the short term – but they provide you with enough money in order to spend 6 months in Thailand. Working the fast food counter at the ski resort might not be your life long desire – but going riding for 150 days in one season might be, so you are working in order to support your chosen lifestyle.
There's no one way that is better than the other. One might sound more “fun” than the other, but one might provide more financial stability for the future. Ideally, we all can find that one job that fulfils every desire of our lives, one that perfectly balances your work with your life so that you can lead healthy and happy lives. There are few of us that are able to find that job, though many have tried and failed.
So, if you were forced to choose, which would come first? Would you give up your job for a better lifestyle? Would you give up your home's location for the chance at a better career? Which is more important to you – and do your finances agree with that decision?