There is, for many of us myself included, a balance sheet between time spent working and time off. It might seem ridiculous to analyze this difference too much. The assumed task at hand seems obvious; decrease the time spent at work and increase the time off for maximum enjoyment.

An entire industry is forming around the inkling that maybe a life should be lived on the terms that we dictate. In the past we were taught: Study hard at school so that you can get a good job. Now it might make more sense to say study hard and draw your information from varied sources so you never have to take a job. Magazines like Work From Home, Mother Earth News and even Real Simple seem to be offering us a taste of the “off-the-grid lifestyle” that can be ours if we simply view our relationship to our work and life from a more empowered angle.

So, what are the actual differences between being at work and time off. For most of us you know when you are at work because, well… you’re at work. But, imagine for a moment that that line is blurred. This is where the analysis of what constitutes work and what constitutes time off comes in. It is an inventory that every individual, especially those like me who for the entirety of my life has felt a duality between where I am supposed to be and where I am, must perform for themselves. Here I will lay down the generalities of my quest to better analyze work vs. time off in order that I might increase time off and decrease time at work– a belief I wrongly postulated would increase my happiness. My question was framed something like this: If “work” is on the left side of the spectrum and “play” is on the other, a list of attributes might be applied to them to differentiate one from the other. For instance my one complaint about work is that I don’t feel personally engaged in it, whereas I do feel engaged at a personal level in my hobbies.

Often not personally engaging
Engaging, fulfilling, an objective to achieve
Authority-driven
Self-driven
A means to acquiring money
Costs money
Incentives to be productive
Non-productive
Do it in their place, on their time
Do it where you want, when they let you
Structured
Unstructured
Extrinsic
Intrinsic

I had been taught how to create this type of chart to analyze two supposedly opposite things early in my school career, and in fact even at that early age I would have agreed with this polarization of the places I felt compelled to be as opposed to those places I naturally sought out. I would have easily substituted the word “school” for “work.” It’s the stuff you gotta do as opposed to what you want to do.

Now, from my experience in bringing up this subject, I know that there some who will look at me quizzically and suggest that maybe this difficulty in finding balance is my own lack of balance. And, maybe they are right. As I said up above, I think that these absolutes of assigning every “good” quality other than “paying the bills” to something other than work might be less than productive. After all, we are trying to find the way to pay the bills without the stuff we don’t need in our lives.

Some people look at me as if I’m crazy when I suggest this. I can almost accept this disbelief from people of another generation. My mother used to say, with that quizzical look on her face: It’s work. It’s not supposed to be fun. You just do it. She and my father, who worked the same post office job for thirty years without a single sick day, had that quizzical look because, as parents, they were worried about me. And, maybe they were right to. The difference between us, was that they were convinced that my quest for meaning and balance would lead only to disappointment whereas I was convinced I was headed for a kind of enlightened nirvana.

So, either we all realize that work, and by work I mean all that compromising that seems to make work work– for instance, many of us have the belief that work often carries with it some element that makes it a place we don’t want to be. It might be possible, and it is probable that a good many of us truly don’t believe it sucks, they truly can’t think of a place where they’d rather be. They’re just relieved that they don’t have to think about where they’d be, or what they’d be doing if they weren’t at work right now. There’s probably even some people out there who either through a “strong work ethic” or just sheer dullness don’t ever find themselves wasting time at work. Or maybe they think that that stuff is their work. Like that guy on Office Space who describes his work day as mostly just screwing around. God, I love that movie.

In Genesis, Adam is forced by God to work the earth and begin earning his daily sustenance by the sweat of his brow, as a penance for his ambition. Even in the Bible work is punishment.

I once heard great literature described as imposing upon us a kind of mandate. Great literature not only returns us to our world, but it demands that we live differently. When I see Office Space I get riled up. For me it’s like reading Jonathon Livingston Seagull. I remember when I began plotting my transformation in earnest– my escape. I read and watch them like owner’s manuals for Life.

Why are there not scientists or philosophers or someone for God’s sake working on this very problem right now? Why are they not liberating the masses? I mean, only a percentage of us are going to get the cancer and yet there are legions of people out there right this minute working on a cure. Nearly all of us in the Western world are right this minute living (I shudder to use that term) with working at empty careers that take up most of our lives, jobs that infect even our time away from the office, infect even our sleep.

And yet we have people working so hard to fight all the symptoms, and very, very few– I can only name one: Rick Emerson, who is tackling the source of the problem.

Work sucks, people. It sucks the life right out of living. When I gave it up for good, suddenly the pile of laundry didn’t loom. Suddenly the walls of my home got painted. I lost weight. My back quit hurting.

Have a problem with that blanket statement? Well, so do I. Work doesn’t inherently suck. Much of what I love to do would be a sucky job for someone else. Changing a diaper is almost a pleasure when you’re connected to the child. Changing the oil or fiddling with a motor is a pleasure when you’re connected to the machine. Writing your thoughts, while it might suck when forced on the student, is a pleasure when you are connected to the thoughts that truly need to be expressed. Connection. Intention. These factors must be present for work to be meaningful to so many of us– a higher number, I would guess than will ever get any particular dread disease.

But, where is connection and intention taught in school? Can a parent who is disconnected and without positive intention simply going though the moves ever impart it to a child who might never be quite able to put his finger on what is lacking.

When connected to one’s work, when working with clear intention, one loses oneself in one’s work because there is no difference. The two are one. Graduating from the most respected schools, coming from the wealthiest families, these things are no guarantee that the work of our lives will be full of intention and connection.

Without connection and intention those Successories with their photos of eagles soaring and climbers hanging precariously upon a cliff are simply no different that Bolivian marching powder– used by us to keep us going at any cost. Make me a poster with Intention and Connection. You don’t need posters of Intention and Connection because if they aren’t there they simply aren’t there. You want posters genuinely espousing Connection and Intention, go to your local art museum.

With connection and intention the way and work are meaningful and way leads onto way.

Looking back at my little graph, I can see that I made some incorrect inferences. The negative assumptions I made about both work and play were made simply because I have been for so long tossing work and play into ready-made bins in my psyche.

In his great book Rise of the Creative Class Richard Florida describes a growing class of wage-earners that are not only defining the way they work, but also having an effect on the way the world is beginning to look at earning a living. He calls this class the “Creative Class” and traces their roots back to artists, professors and other Creatives who have always required a certain amount of independence in which to perform their work.

These days, with developments in technology and information dissemination, this class of creative individuals are better able to express themselves in a lucrative way. But, all that is just a bunch of toys without the most important aspect of the creative class… namely their creativity.

He describes their shared characteristics as though they are particular to this class of people who earn their money by creating new things where before there was nothing or something inferior. But, in fact, the things that they value are shared by many others. It is just that people who create are given license to exhibit these characteristics. They include a desire to have flexible schedules, work in comfortable clothes (the no-collar worker), be connected personally to their work.

Flow describes a situation in which a person experiences various time-bending, mind-numbing sensations involving a level of challenge equal to and sometimes slightly above one’s skill level. The author Mihaly Czikszentmihaly found that the subjects of his study most often reported being in a Flow state while at work, but that they also reported (to his astonishment) while in this state at work they also wished to be someplace else.

They reported experience the feeling known as Flow much less often when they were in fact off work. In other words, the author of Flow whose name is pronounced she-sent-me-high, our jobs challenge us to the limits of our abilities but our jobs aren’t where we want to be. But when we’re where we want to be (off) we’re usually not in a flow state because without the structure imposed by work we’re naturally inclined to hang with friends or watch television, or some other unchallenging activity. So, work gives us structure and limits our freedom. No kidding. Doesn’t it follow that freedom with self-imposed structure equals happiness?

I was discussing the flow paradox with an old friend visiting from out of town. He suggested that we, each of us, would like to somehow incorporate the magazines we subscribe to into our life. He designs and installs high-tech security systems, and while he may peruse an issue of The Guardian while he’s upstairs “dropping off the kids” on company time, he really can’t wait to wipe, finish up the day, get home and incorporate a little Log Cabin Lifestyle back into his life.

We all know plenty of people with jobs and while a good number of them don’t “hate” their jobs, and in fact, a significant number might even love their jobs, the old saying still seems to hold true: A bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to speculate as to what life might hold if it were our lot in life to only do what we love. Another friend once put it, “Even Bob Dylan has to go to some meetings he doesn’t want to attend.”

Somebody in earshot once answered that hypothetical lottery question by saying, “I’d love to spend my time volunteering.” And I wondered, aren’t we all volunteering, really? I mean no one has ever pulled me kicking and screaming into any job I’ve ever had. Complain as we might, we have all asked for our jobs. No, in fact, I have put on what otherwise would have been award-winning performances of myself starring as “The Perfect Potential Employee.” And, I’ve been awarded the roles.

Back in college when I was a student of literature I always looked at those business people as materialistic cretins, and while they may have been, it took me this long to realize that true entrepreneurs are artists in their own right. While we were off being clever, creative and hungry for art’s sake the self-employed were quietly creating their own futures. Ponder for a moment, the act of creating a place in life. Imagine finding that thing that the world needs that you can provide, providing it and being bold enough to expect payment.

Is the key to act each day as if we are volunteering and to remember that we are.

Richard Florida admits that the Creative Class exists and he points out that they share many values, most noticeably a structure that permeates their life.

Czekzentmihily notices that we tend to be our happiest when we are fully engaged, and he also notices that while careers tend to engage us they are missing a crucial element; personal ownership.
The trick is to convert our lives into living off the grid.

The difference is in large part one of semantics- meaning, and perhaps, intention.