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Balanced Consumption

November 23, 2009

Mary was consumed with her work. Her photography business had started out as a hobby. The quality of her work attracted attention and before she knew it, she was getting paid to have fun.

The demand for her work soon exceeded the hours in a day and then the days in a week. She added a part time employee, then two. Her home studio was soon outgrown and she leased some commercial space. Her staff grew as the business prospered. She worked long hours and loved it.

Jack had been running his own business for over ten years. He had worked hard to prove himself and to establish his business. He was well past period of worrying if the business would be a success. It was established and he was enjoying the material rewards of making it happen.

Despite being a winner in the eyes of the world, Jack was often tired, tense, and frustrated. While the business operated smoothly, Jack was bogged down in details that frustrated him. Why was he spending his life doing the same things over and over again? Jack was being consumed by his work.

There is a fine verbal distinction between being “consumed with your work” and “being consumed by your work”, but there is an enormous difference in your life. In both instances your conscious hours are dominated with the tasks at hand. But “being consumed with your work” is an exhilarating feeling. “Being consumed by your work” is an exhausting experience.

Work is a natural and necessary element in all our lives. The satisfaction and confidence that comes with a job well done is an important reward that we all need. Doing things well and making a meaningful contribution to a purposeful activity is an important part of life.

When you are “consumed with your work”, you are experiencing the full exhilaration that work can provide. You are working hard and having fun. You are gaining confidence and growing in stature. There are problems and challenges, tension and stress with your work, but the adrenaline flows and the problems are solved and the challenges are met. The tension and stress are converted to achievement and accomplishment.

When you are “consumed by your work”, it is not fun. You are working hard, but your thoughts are dominated by your burdens. The normal tensions and stress of every job become overpowering. Your frustrations on the job have a negative carryover to your other activities. Your temper is shorter and your blood pressure is higher.

Whether you are being consumed “with” or “by” your work, your first thoughts of the day are frequently job related. If you are consumed “with” your work, you will be thinking about how you will solve the next problem. While you may not know the answer, you are optimistic that you will find the solution. If you are being consumed “by” your work, you will often start the new day rehashing old battles, unable to shake yesterday’s frustrations and move onto tomorrow’s challenges.

Being consumed by your work is a dangerous situation. When there are too many problems or problems that are overwhelming large, your natural sense of perspective is lost. It is like being in a hopeless situation without being able to admit it. It is a feeling that can permeate other areas of your life.

List writing, prioritizing, and scheduling are activities that can help you to regain your perspective if you see yourself developing the frustrations of being consumed by your work. Over burdensome problems will become a constant demon in your head until you exorcise them in quantifiable terms on paper. The problems won’t go away just because you list, prioritize, and schedule your time to productively deal with them. But you will be able to regain the perspective you need to be “consumed with” solving the problems.

A circumstance equally dangerous as being “consumed by” your work is a situation in which you have insufficient work to be consumed by it or with it. Being a potential .300 hitter and sitting on the bench is no fun. Before you know it, you will become lazy or lose your confidence. Either situation is sure to lead frustration. Not having enough of a challenge can be just as unhealthy and negatively stressful as being overburdened with seemingly insurmountable problems.

The exhilaration that comes with a challenging job or the building of a business is one of life’s great pleasures. To rise each morning, consumed with the desire to meet the days challenges, is a positive feeling that will invigorate the rest of your life.

If the challenges have become so overwhelming that you begin the day consumed by yesterday’s frustrations, take what ever actions are necessary to regain the perspective that you once had. If the challenges just aren’t there, find them before your life is wasted.

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