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Do you live to work?

Or do you work to live?

Hard work never killed anybody.
-Common parental advice

My own parents never gave me that one particular bit of advice, probably because they knew better. My Dad worked in a steel mill, at an open-hearth furnace–a hellish inferno that covered him in burns, which he was expected to keep working through. One day, the explosive charge that opens the furnace, allowing molten steel to pour into a huge bucket, failed to go off. He was sent to investigate. When he got near the charge, it exploded, leaving him partially deaf, but glad to be alive. Later he was forced into early retirement because of emphysema. No, he didn’t smoke; he just breathed air in his workplace.

Most SOHO workers don’t face those kinds of daily hazards, but they do face another one that can wreak havoc upon them and their loved ones. I’m talking about that same “hard work.” And while working hard in a SOHO situation is less likely–barring heart attack–to kill you, it can hurt the ones you love. I’ve heard far too many stories of small-business foks who worked nights and weekends to get their struggling businesses to survive, only to miss their children growing up. Once you’ve missed their childhood, it’s gone, and I suspect this is one of the reasons many older men remarry younger women, so that they can recapture time lost with their first family. Wouldn’t it be easier to do it right the first time?

I’m not Dr. Laura or even Anne Landers, but there are outward signs that indicate if you’re becoming a workaholic. These symptoms were brought to my attention by the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, and I’d like to share them with you today, along with some of my thoughts.

Do you think it’s OK to work long hours if you love what you’re doing? If so, you may be a workaholic. A corollary to this is telling yourself that you’re “doing this for the family.” You may be lying to yourself, because after all the hard work is done and you’ve lost your family, what was the point of all this hard work in the first place?

Do you experience headaches, insomnia, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, muscle tension, or ulcers? There’s another cliché that says “life is too short,” and if these symptoms aren’t enough to convince you that you need to make some changes in your work habits, maybe this next question will.

Are you anxious to get off the phone with friends when they call, and they call less often than they once did?

I find this particular symptom poignant, because of an incident that happened when I still owned my photographic studio. During our busy season, a friend called while I was out of the office. My wife gave me the message, but I told her I didn’t want to call him back, because I was too busy. She urged me to call, because Ernie Mau was concerned about how I was feeling. I called him back and we talked about how I was feeling (better, I was glad to report) and discussed projects we were both involved in. When I got off the phone, I thanked Mary for urging me to call him. When we got home that night, Ernie’s wife called to say he had died from a massive heart attack two hours after we spoke. He was worried about how I was feeling, and I almost didn’t take the time to talk with him one last time. Don’t miss the time to talk to the people you care about, and who care about you.

Contributing Editor Joe Farace–the author of more than 1000 magazine articles and 23 books–likes to work hard, but at heart he has always been a big goof-off.

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