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We are earning, but is that living?

In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer. – Albert Camus in ‘Return to Tipasa’ (1952) 

Is it only through loss, pain or death that we gain clarity of purpose in our lives?

We live, therefore we must die. Though our days are numbered, we consider them countless. We spend our time carelessly.

We attend time management courses, to help us prioritise. We're asked: “What would you do, if you only had 6 months to live?”

Would we be doing the same work we do now? Would we be worrying about the things that worry us right now? Would we sacrifice our time working to save up for some future-imagined life?

Crises jolt us into reality:

  • A near-death experience
  • The death of a loved one
  • The discovery of an illness
  • The loss of a relationship

Sometimes we suffer multiple jolts in quick succession. Life provides constant reminders of our own mortality. Sometimes we require more than one reminder - we‘re so blinded by our optimism that we still have plenty of time left.

Forgive me, for it’s not my intention to be morbid. On the contrary, I’m trying to understand whether we could gain that clarity without having to experience the loss and the pain at all. Is there a way to be blindingly clear about our life purpose without the suffering? Why don't we notice that the simple things are most important, until we’ve lost someone who enriched our lives.

I recently lost a loved one. At once I became acutely aware that the life I was living didn't reflect my core values. I suspect I’m not alone.  

I love my friends and family, yet I hadn't been as available to them as I wished. I wanted to be there to support them during difficult times, but work got in the way.

I like to think I’m fit, but I wasn’t living a healthy life. Not enough sleep. Not enough exercise. Too much convenience food. None of that results in a good, long life.

I’m usually easy-going. Yet I felt unusually on edge. Some weekends were ruined by my worrying about project deadlines that were unrealistic and out of my control. I’d lost perspective of what was truly important.

I don’t need material pleasures. My favourite past time is walking in the woods or by the river. Yet I was working harder than I really needed to, in the belief that I should stock up the financial rewards for some time in future.  

It was the single hour we spent with the Minister recently, planning the funeral service, which helped me cut through to the clarity. He asked: “What were they most proud of?”

How can you possibly summarise 73 years in sixty minutes?

I thought about how I’d been spending my time in previous months. Was it really that important to be remembered as a (supposedly) successful consultant? Is that really something to be proud of? Or do I want to be remembered for being a person who is generous with her time? Someone who is always there when loved ones really need it?

I’ve been reminded that time is the most precious thing we can give to others. Yes, we may enjoy a purposeful career. But the measure of that success isn’t in status or financial rewards. We may be earning more, but we are always losing time.

I’ve been consulting for almost a decade. There have been periods, thankfully, when I could step back from work, to attend to family matters. However, recently I was drawn back into full-time work at the prospect of earning well for future gain. But this sad loss has made me realise I’m not spending the days in my 'life' account so wisely.

Many job roles are inflexible. We rise in the early hours and return home late, too tired to do much else except eat and watch a little TV to unwind.

We should be creating memories, experiencing life outside of work with those who really matter to us. With those we wish to remember long after they are gone.

People ask ‘How do you earn a living?’ But when we’re earning, are we really living? 

Wednesday, 15th April 2015
Vanessa Hunt

Written by Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa worked as an independent CRM Consultant from 2006, before establishing Vanessa Hunt Consulting Ltd in January 2010. She's held training and management positions in software organisations and consultancies such as Maximizer Software Ltd, McAfee, Detica and CSC Computer Sciences. With twenty years' experience in training, marketing and CRM, she's very much at home in anything martech, CRM or cloud related. When she's not in the classroom in heels, she's outdoors in muddy boots!

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