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Just lately, three words keep echoing down the dark empty corridor of my mind: work to live.  Not because I don’t like my job — I love it — but because I am enjoying my home life more than ever. Yet I’m in an occupation that would swallow me whole if it could, and I feel that I’m under constant pressure to be the good corporate soldier, to volunteer more of my time towards things directly, indirectly, and only tangentially related to my duties. For example, attending community engagement out of hours: mixing with people is something innately alien to me as an introvert, yet it’s at the core of my work. I chair and/or am invited to a crapload of meetings out there in the world, and while it was pointed out to me that meetings are a necessary evil, my response has always been that they are still evil.

For starters, look at the inbreds you get trapped with. Among the worst is the meeting hog who waits impatiently for an opportunity then launches into some monologue that goes nowhere and adds nothing. Even worse when they preface it with “I know I tend to ramble on a bit, but…” and do it anyway! I have one such regular meeter, and planned to have a quiet word with her on the last occasion, but she started her spiel this time with an teary yet outraged account of how, at another meeting she monopolises, she’d been pulled aside by the chair afterwards and quietly ‘abused’ for talking too long. ‘I won’t yield to oppression!” she announces stridently. Abuse and oppression, for f*cks sake. So, that’s one obstacle that remains unhurdled.

Other noxious types include the assassin, who sits in silence and contributes nothing then either white-ants you to all and sundry afterwards, or approaches you to disagree with everything that was mooted. Why not say so at the meeting?  Invariably you get “I felt uncomfortable” or some crap like that. This guy often alternates with the thin-skinned PC type, who joins meetings just to police them for ‘inappropriateness’. Invite one of these prickly bitches anytime you want to have no fun at all. That said, the pedant who bogs you down by insisting you observe formal meeting protocol is pretty stab-worthy too. And there’s the clown who thinks all meetings are just ad-hoc venues for testing their latest unfunny stand-up routine. I also hate naysayers, who are all objections and no solutions. And the clock-watcher — drives me nuts. Powerpoint-fetishists should all die.  And then there’s the unease that suffocates a meeting when it becomes obvious that nobody has actioned any of the agenda items from the last meeting. You lazy bunch of good for nothing mofos…

But (slowly getting back on point) I reserve top-spot on my list of people you don’t want at a meeting for the despot, usually a man, who is or thinks he is the most important and/or intelligent person in the room. They often insist on you chairing, but then dominate the meeting from the sidelines. They claim to be open-minded, yet invariably are not. They will utter an opinion then fish out their Blackberry and ignore everyone else until they want to talk again. Their arrogance is appalling — they’re almost always NOT the one with the answers, and all they actually achieve is a chilling effect on the meeting by insulting every other person in the room. But at least it has a uniting effect, because I’m sure we’re all thinking the same thought:

Back on-point now, work will take everything you can give and more. When you’re finished, it will spit out your bony carcass and gobble up the next victim. The only thing preventing this from happening to you is — you. Pithy aphorisms aside, I can’t remember the title of the movie, but there’s a line which sums up my attitude to work perfectly: “I don’t want to be the best soldier, I want to be the oldest soldier,” and equally, from the greatest sci-fi film of all time, the immortal words: “the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.”  We all have to sleep, shit and eat — and work — the latter being the thing you have to do to afford the things you want to do.  Work pays the bills and puts food on the table, but more than anything else it buys you time away from work to do the things that make you happy.

Now, I read a study recently that seems to prove a curious thing: that Americans seeks happiness through work more than Europeans. Putting aside the anglo-saxon bias of this study, unanswered is the hope that social capital is what Americans really want, and not that they like to work because it gives their hungry grab for status through affluence a little extra reach. It’s an old fact that income is not directly proportional to happiness. We get happy in large part because we achieve our aspirations, but then of course that nasty gremlin called ‘hedonic adaptation’ drops by and destroys your equanimity by giving you something else to covet. But it’s not all the greedy gremlin’s fault: some of need to take a reality check if our first world problems ever seem overwhelming.

So what’s the answer? First, maybe get some perspective on your needs versus your wants. Check you attitude: just because it’s called a rat-race doesn’t mean you have to behave like a rat. Grow a pair: say ‘no’ occasionally to the screaming inner-brat that throws a tantrum every time it doesn’t get it’s own way. Find something worth doing for its own sake, and avoid the trap of thinking an activity is only worthwhile if you get paid for it. Do that, and before you know it everything you do is work. And that, dear reader, would miss the point of living.