Positive Living in Difficult Times

Living to Work?

Mary Mehburger

The COVID-19 pandemic brought our world to a jarring halt. The muscle memory of our day-to-day monotony no longer applied to our slower, quarantined lives. Social media was soon overflowing with documented journeys of new hobbies, like bread baking, painting, meditation, and living room Pilates. Prior to the pandemic, our free time was often spent preparing for the next workday (McGath, 2018). In a society where our value is rooted in our willingness to stretch the limitations of our productivity, any free time must be used to recover and prepare for another day of being a useful employee (McGath, 2018).

Do you want to go to the new art exhibit downtown?

Do you want to see the new premiere at the theater?

Do you want to try this dance class?

No. I should go to bed early for work tomorrow.

The boundaries between work and personal lives have become blurred. Of course, working from home blurs these physical boundaries; but it is the blurring of our daily meaning that our focus on productivity and marketable skills may have confused. Previous literature has supported an emphasis on meaning at work (Arnoux-Nicolas et al., 2016; Wrzesniewski, 2003). Others have called this emphasis a fabricated, capitalist value (Cech, 2022; Dockterman, 2021). Regardless of where someone falls on the spectrum between these ideas, the importance of having meaning still stands. The question is this: where do we want to direct our energy? Finding meaning in our post-pandemic work life may begin by grounding ourselves in an important decision. Are we living to work?

The COVID-19 pandemic globally reminded us that another day is never promised. Perhaps the best way to make our work more meaningful is to cultivate enthusiasm for our personal lives; to find meaningful hobbies and activities that make us excited to spend our time doing something other than just preparing for our next work day. Because let’s face it–we might love our jobs but, at the end of the day, it is just that: a job. Without purpose in our personal lives, we may search for that purpose in a job; with work as the only source of purpose, our value is reduced to our productivity levels. It is the meaning in our existence, not our worth as an employee, that ultimately leads to self-fulfillment (Deurzen & Craig, 2019).


Arnoux-Nicolas, C., Sovet, L., Lhotellier, L., Di Fabio, A., & Bernaud, J.-L. (2016). Perceived work conditions and turnover intentions: The mediating role of meaning of work. Frontiers in Psychology7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00704

Cech, E. A. (2022, May 23). Loving your job is a capitalist trap. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/11/danger-really-loving-your-job/620690/

Deurzen, V. E., & Craig, E. (2019). Introduction: What is existential therapy? In The Wiley world handbook of existential therapy. Wiley Blackwell.

Dockterman, E. (2021, January 25). Why loving your work is a capitalist myth. Time. https://time.com/5930844/love-your-work-capitalism/

McGath, T. (2018, August 27). The tyranny of the workday: How capitalism colonizes your free time. Medium. https://medium.com/@tamcgath/the-tyranny-of-the-workday-how-capitalism-colonizes-your-free-time-b3f8ba438f53

Wrzesniewski, A. (2003) Finding positive meaning in work. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. 296–308. Berrett-Koehler Publishers..