The Constant Struggle To Balance Work And Play

My big goal for 2009 was to “Work Smart”. I say “was” because I don’t think I’ve been doing a very good job of it.

In late 2008, I read Seth Godin’s book, “The Dip”, which according to its subtitle is “a little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick).”

Without going into all the details of the book, the one message I pulled from its text was that we shouldn’t even start something unless we are prepared to put in the work and become the best in the world at what we are attempting to do. Rather than waste the time, energy and money it takes to get started with something and then quit some time down the road when the going gets tough, it’s smarter to be honest with ourselves from the very get-go and ask ourselves, “Am I truly prepared to become the best in the world at what I am about to do?” If the answer is “yes”, then great! Push forward. But if the answer is “no”, you might as well quit right now and find something that you can become the best in the world at.

Anyway, after reading the book and then thinking about my travel plans for 2009, I set a very simple goal for myself: “Work Smart”.

By working smart, I planned to only spend my time on activities that paid off personally or financially. When confronted with a new opportunity that did not align with my goals for the future, I told myself I would either refuse to work on such projects or I would simply pass the work onto someone else who could handle it better than I could.

But three months have passed now and things haven’t gone exactly to plan. My work life has quickly started to dominate my travel experience. I’ve said “yes” to too many projects and I am no longer spending my time studying German or seeing the sites (at least not as much as I’d like to). Instead, I’m stuck inside, sitting behind my computer all day, working my butt off until four in the morning so I can continue this crazy European adventure.

Basically, I’m not working smart anymore… and as my workload piles up, I’m struggling to get myself back on track. I’m struggling to find the balance between work and play.

I’m sure you’ve probably felt this way at some point yourself. You feel like you work too much, make too little money, and have too little time to do the things you really want to do. That’s exactly what I’m experiencing here.

But I bet you’re also thinking to yourself, “Darren, why in the world are you complaining? You’re traveling around Europe, you don’t have a 9-5 job, and you’re living the dream! Why in the world are you so unhappy?”

Even if you weren’t thinking that, that’s what I always seem to get when I talk to my friends or family back home. They constantly remind me that what I am doing (traveling and working at the same time) is something very few people have the opportunity to do. They continue by telling me that even though I’m not living exactly the way I’d like to, I’m still functioning at a level far above what most people are capable of.

That said, I realize I am extremely fortunate. But at the same time, I also realize that I’m not 100% happy.

When I talk to people about this subject, it seems as though almost everyone is struggling to balance their personal and professional lives. No matter how much they work, how much money they make, or how much free time they have, it seems as though almost everyone is struggling to find a way to work less… and play more!

My parents say this should be encouraging – to know that I’m not the only one struggling with this matter. But I don’t see it like that. In fact, I think it’s terribly depressing, because it seems as though no one has the answer. Some are closer than others, but no one seems to have the issue nailed.

But then, just when my spirits are at their lowest, I get an email from a reader who wants to know how I do it. He asks, “How do you find the time to do so much traveling? How do you raise the neccessary funds? How can I do what you are doing?”

I’m stumped. Here I am, looking for someone with the answers… and I’m confronted by another person on a similar journey, looking to me as he tries to piece a bit of the puzzle together for himself.

It’s then that I realize how fortunate I truly am. Maybe I don’t have all the answers, but I’m doing pretty well.

Maybe the fact that I work so hard is the reason I am able to travel to all these amazing places? Maybe the fact that I stay up until four in the morning writing these articles and doing my work is the reason people look up to me as a source of inspiration? And maybe, just maybe, the reason I do any of this in the first place is because it gives me the opportunity to seek out the answers?

Over the years I’ve been asked by hundreds, if not thousands, of people: “Why do you do it?”

They want to know why I travel. Why I punish myself by biking when I could just take a car. Why I sleep in a tent and refuse to get a normal job.

I’ve thought about the answers to these question a lot over the years… and I still don’t think I have a good response. But I guess, maybe that’s what all this is about in the first place?

Maybe I work my butt off so I have the opportunity to search? Maybe I travel in hopes of finding the answer somewhere along the way? Maybe the reason I do any of this in the first place is because I’m still looking for the balance between work and play? And maybe, just maybe, the reason I’m able to do all the things I do is because I spend so much time thinking about and working on the problem?

How do you try and balance your personal and professional lives? Do you have any tips or tricks for working less and playing more? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

0 thoughts on “The Constant Struggle To Balance Work And Play

  1. Joshua says:

    Perhaps one of the keys is to really enjoy your job. How many people fit into this category? I was talking with my friends the other day and we were talking about what would we do if we won the lottery. Would you keep your job? If you really enjoy it, I bet you would.

  2. Darren Alff says:

    Joshua, I think you are right. I would continue working on and I would continue doing a lot of my other work if I were to suddenly become wealthy. Actually, I think I would do more work than less because the money would open me up to more opportunities. But I would also cut out doing a lot of the things that I don’t like to do. So I think you are right.

    But what do you do if the money isn’t there and you are still doing things you don’t like to do? What do you do if you feel that there is no way to cut out the things you don’t like because you are not yet financially able? How does one solve that problem?

    My guess is… “make more money”. But how do you do it, without overworking?

  3. chris says:

    I think you’re being overly philosophical about your lifestyle. If somebody needs to ask why you tour, camp, or climb mountains, then they will never understand why you do it. You don’t need to justify your lifestyle to them anymore than they do for having a “normal job” or driving a car. If this is the lifestyle you choose and are happy with it, then you don’t need to give it any more thought.

    Remember: Der Weg ist das Ziel!

  4. Bob Robinson says:

    I believe everyone has dealt with the demons you are wrestling with. I quite my office job because I was looking for something else too. Then I ran into a friend of mine who said me she was the director of MRT. Inc. and told me about the bicycling trail. I thought this is something I could get into. I researched the route and rode it, then wrote the guidebook. Even though I made more money in one pay period at the office than I have off of the book so far, I have no regrets. I know its been said before, and some people can relate and others can’t, but life is too short to spend your time doing something you don’t enjoy.

    From the way you finished your post, it sounds like you have conquered your demons. Keep up this great website for the enjoyment of others who can’t do what you are doing.

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