Life Balance

The balance between work and play

I just read an interesting article by Joe at Retire by 40 on work hard, play hard. In the article Joe gives his personal definition of what it means to work hard, play hard and what the phrase means to him. Although I may have different illusions of what the term means to me, Joe highlights the fact that everyone will have their own personal definitions and meaning to the term. In fact, I’ve thought a lot about these issues, I thought I would share my philosophies on work and play.

Work hard

For me work is what we do to make money. For most people, there is an economic reality where we NEED money to survive, live and have some fun. The idea that having fun does not have to cost money is real but a little utopist to me. Most people have to work to get a paycheque and that paycheque is then used to balance between living for the now and providing for your future.

Play hard

For me playing is what you do outside of work. In a traditional working environment, it’s what you do in the evenings, weekends and on your vacation time. Play can be interpreted as anything you want. For Joe it’s “partying hard”. For others, it may be about sports, travel, hobbies, socialization, meditation, self actualization, or anything you want it to mean. Right now play for me is coaching my kids in soccer, taking the kids to the swimming pool and going for a nice dinner with my wife.

Work hard, play hard

In my opinion, the order makes sense. It’s great to play but how can we play if we don’t work. It sounds great, but reality for most people is a little different.

Sometimes we see people playing more than working (that’s the traditional retirement concept) but before you can get there, you had to work first.

Work less, play more

Joe makes an interesting comment “Work hard so you can achieve financial security. This means get rid of debt and build your net worth. If you are at it long enough, you can shoot for financial independence. Invest in income generating assets instead of playing hard and in time, your investment will be able to pay for your living expenses. That’s why I worked hard for many years – so I canwork less and live moretoday.”

Again, it’s important for people to understand that playing hard or playing more is a reward from working and the harder you work, the sooner you may be able to enjoy.

For me, Joe’s theory is the new retirement model. Retirement used to be an ‘off the cliff’ event where you worked and then you retired (jumped off the cliff into retirement). Today, more and more people are experiencing a transitional or phased retirement where they make keep working but they may work less and play more.

Work smarter, not harder

This concept is similar but different. It came from the productivity era where assembly lines allowed things to be more efficient. Later, the technology era suggested that computers and technology would make our lives simpler and easier so we did not have to work as hard.

Personally, I think this is crazy and my goal is to teach my kids to work harder and smarter.

I’ve met a lot of successful people in my time and I can’t think of one that got to where they are without working hard. Working hard is about paying your dues and we all have to pay our dues. We all have to contribute. You can’t work smarter, live better, play harder without first working hard. It may not be what you want to hear but it’s my truth!


  1. Howard

    This approach is that work is a negaive activity and Play is a positive, an attitude that is sure to lead to bad results.
    How can anyone succeed where the attitude is that i must endure this in order to do what I really want to do?
    The key to success is to find what you really want to do, get paid for doing that, and if you are still doing it in your 70’s, you are successful.
    Great books and works of art were produced by people well beyond the age when the masses are watching day time TV.
    I always felt sorry for those who were trapped into doing a job they hated but were afraid to take a chance on doing something they wanted,because it paid less.

    • Jim Yih

      Well said Howard. I can’t disagree with you in theory. It’s hard to work hard when you do not enjoy what you do. I am very fortunate that I am someone that really enjoys what I do for work so I get what you mean.

      For some people, that quest to find work you love takes a long time or never happens. I talk to thousands of employees every year and most of the people I meet don’t love their work. Some like it. Some like aspects of it. And unfortunately many don’t work because of passion or enjoyment.

  2. Paul N

    There are a lot of ways of looking at this. The concept is good. You have to also enjoy some of your time in younger and in middle aged years as well.

    Some people may not be as fortunate as Joe to have made a good salary, and have his wife continue to work and bring in a paycheck and provide family benefits for them through her job allowing him to “retire at 40”.

    For many couples who for example only make say a combined $80 K, your work hard to the time of financial independence may have a big gap of years between them. Also a lot of hard work. It seems a lot of younger people are either not prepared to do this now or are questioning why they should and seek alternatives to it. There are a lot of daily examples of that we hear of in the news.

  3. Joe @ Retire By 40

    Thanks for coming by and writing a long response!
    I like your work harder and work smarter concept too. When you are young, you have a lot of energy and ambition. That’s the time to work harder and smarter.
    Spending quality time with your family is a great way to play.

  4. Howard

    I have met many young people who unfortunately have very little ambition and reserve their energy for video game playing.
    One of the best hires I ever made, a man who made my 30 somethings look bad, was a 55 year old from Saskatchewan who had at one time, Farmed.
    Not to paint everyone but for much of today’s youth the work ethic is sadly lacking, then again,

  5. Claude Mayrand

    Working hard is what I did for about 35 years.

    But I did work I liked and quit work I didn’t; I was also fired a few times, but that usually turned into some kind of benefit later on.

    I combined work with play whenever I could after working about 15 years or so; I realized I was missing me-time that I would never see again. I often traveled across the country and I would combine extra days before and/or after when working at a new distant client or revisiting one. Photography was a fantastic hobby for those situations.

    But a key message in this article is that hating what you do regardless of how much money you make is a really bad, destructive situation.

    The best situation is liking what you do for whatever reason, and making enough money to satisfy all your non-work goals, including retirement.

    As Howard said, a best hire was an older farmer. A farming training period should be part of any work ethic training program; your competition is nature in all its forms and success is dependent only on what you do personally.

  6. Pat

    I quickly appreciated the advantages of passive vs earned income & ‘working hard’ in the 80’s I bought property & then spent long hard hours & vacations rehabbing them. Back then my engineering colleagues laughed at my resolve to acquire run down buildings that they advised ‘would never be worth anything’.
    Once my passive income eclipsed the ‘other’ I retired (at 49) & continued to foolishly accumulate properties . Sadly those who were amused by my run down homes are working into their 60’s &/or have retired into minimum wage JOBS just to get by.

    • Claude Mayrand

      Pat’s message ties in with what A said about a lesson from an older person.

      I don’t have the skill set that Pat has, working on rehabbing reals estate. But I realized when I was 50 or so that I needed to invest to produce income.

      Took me a while to find that changing my conventional thinking about Mutual Funds and Stock Trading was the answer: dividends from shares. Not interest or capital gains or capital appreciation which may produce cash if your crystal ball is right about buying low and selling high.

      Today dividend stocks and funds are easy to find using stock screeners. 20 years ago it was much more difficult.

      Today (wish I was 40 again) I recommend this to everyone. Some are starting to see the benefits of concentrating on generating income rather than desperately struggling to save enough capital in a personal retirement fund.

  7. A

    I met a retired gentleman 20 years ago at a language class who informed all us young uns that if we were NOT practising NOW what we planned later in retirement, we would not do it eg. A family friend planned to paint after retirement. She retired 2 years ago, has all the equipment but cannot bring herself to start. She is going out of her tree. Same thing happened to my ex-in-laws. The worst part was forcing the partner to retire and ruining it for the partner as well. I am so glad I met that gentleman. I have used his advice and work 3 days a week. In 2017 it will be reduced to 2 days a week. I am +65.

  8. Dominique

    Working hard gets you nowhere if you don’t work smart as well. Great article!

  9. Grant

    Good lessons here. Working hard is absolutely necessary to your future. Each second worked is a second in the bank of your retirement and healthy life outcome.

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