Why Is Work More Fulfilling Than Play?
I can’t watch TV. I barely even finish movies anymore. I quit Netflix cold turkey because it takes me forty-five minutes to choose a film anyway.
8 o’clock on a Friday I find myself clicking between tabs on Google Chrome, frenetically checking my cell phone for emails. When I’m out, trying to party, trying to take advantage of a 22-year-old body that can still get blackout drunk without (life-threatening) consequences, my mind wanders to brand identities and social influence and search engine optimization.
I get more excited about a strong Wifi signal at coffee shops than I do about half-priced cocktails at bars.
What the hell is wrong with me? Is this it? Am I old? Have I lost my innocence!
Nah. I think I’m just ambitious.
I was a manic multitasker in college. I’m not surprised that much didn’t change after I graduated. What has changed is how much of my time is now dedicated to productivity instead of procrastination.
In school, I crammed productivity into the workweek in order to free up enough space on the weekend to get trashed and sleep-in until 2pm. And it worked well for me: I graduated with honors, references, and a half a dozen concentric circles of life-long friends.
In the immediate weeks post-graduation, finally free from the homework and group projects and midterm study sessions that capitalized my nights, I’d try to sit back and relax after work. But almost immediately, free time began to feel more like a pitfall than a well-deserved break.
All the different voices in my head, the angel/devil duos on my shoulders played a maniacal game of tug-of-war with my intention, and I lost consistency for my first months in the “real world.”
Angel: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
Devil: “Don’t listen to the walking Tumblr quote, the new season of Black Mirror came out.”
Angel: “The greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”
Devil: “I found this new sushi spot in LA, but I don’t have money for gas. Can you drive?”
Angel: “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.”
Devil: “I had a dream last night about fidget spinners.”
Angel: “You must work toward a retirement while you still have your health.”
Devil: “Relax, you’ll never be this young again.”
Angel: “Look at all those entrepreneurs, how successful they are, you’ll never get there unless you stay home this Saturday night and stay up until dawn reading Neal Patel blogs and Dale Carnegie books.”
Devil: “Look at all those Instagram models and DJ’s in Miami, I bet if we spent the last of your savings we could get a one-way plane ticket there and then busk on the beach to afford a ticket to Ultra Music Festival.”
Angel: “Let’s go to a coffee shop and type words.”
Devil: “Let’s get high and watch Planet Earth.”
Me: “It’s 3AM, can’t this wait?”
My work-life balance sucked because I forgot what “work” and “play” meant.
For my whole life, work only always meant, for lack of a better word, bad. Unpleasant, mandatory, boring. Play was good. Fun, free, relaxing, exciting. In the absence of school as the consistent definition of “work,” and anything else as “play,” it took me a while to realize that I was now free to define the words as I saw fit. And I realized what had changed in me in all those years of multitasking in college.
Work became that which is fun, free, and relaxing. I was now able to spend my time on those projects and ambitions that fulfilled me and got me excited the way that doing nothing used to. At this point, it not only feels good to be busy — it feels healthy.
But it’s more than that.
The difference between work and play, as a 22-year-old who can still power through hangovers, is the difference between consuming and creating.
Think about it.
Throughout our young lives, we’ve only ever been consumers. We know what that feels like, binging Netflix shows, wandering through public parks to find a place to smoke pot. It’s a fun time. But it’s like having a whole plate of your favorite food every day. You already know what it tastes like. After a while you just get sick of it and you want something else to do. And it’s unhealthy.
But being a creator is healthy, and for so many more reasons than we consider. You’re expressing yourself. You’re putting what’s inside on the outside, freeing up space for more inspiration and ideas. But more than that, creating is good because it adds value to the lives of others.
Writing, playing a musical instrument, developing gene therapy, designing efficient hydroelectric dams, and producing waterproof socks all create value. Creating value in the lives of others is the most fulfilling thing there is.
Even in a non-creative field, work is still fulfilling because it enables you to support your lifestyle and your family. In that, you are adding value to your life and that of others. Especially if your definition of joy and fulfillment is a great show on Netflix or a beach day, work enables you to enjoy those times on your own terms.
Work is fulfilling because it is not meaningless. Through work we learn new skills, which have value in and of themselves. No matter what it is you’re working on, at the end of the day you’ve accomplished something — and that feels fucking great.
I’ve gone back and forth on how much I should spend on work, not only in terms of time, but in terms of energy, passion, and self-sacrifice. If I only work, though, on whatever it is — my health, my business, my writing, my relationships — I’m never going to make it to thirty.
Work-life is about balance. Duh.
Beach days are vital. Getting drunk has its moments. There are just some shows which are 100% binge-worthy, and a plate of your favorite food is almost always a good idea. It comes down to deciding what work and play mean to you, and then finding the balance.
Daniel is a writer from California.
Follow Daniel on Instagram: @saint.clarity and Medium: @djameskelley