Why are we working ourselves to literal and existential death?

We are becoming a culture of robots that lives to work, rather than working to live.

A thought-provoking article in the New York Times this week takes a deep dive into the culture of working insanely long hours, highlighting a New York couple that epitomises the (admittedly high-end) rat race: she’s a lawyer working 20-hours per week, and he’s a lawyer working up to 80 hours a week.

He earns 4-6 times more than his wife, though he rarely sees his children – and she manages absolutely everything within their household.


“I’m here if he needs to work late or go out with clients,” she says. “Really, the benefit is he doesn’t have to think about [anything at home]. If he has to work late or on weekends, he’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, who’s going to watch the children?’ The thought never crosses his mind.”

This specific situation is one of great privilege; the couple earns big bucks and can afford to throw money at the problem, in terms of cleaners, childcare and other help.

What’s more, if they manage their money properly, they could afford to work hard for 10-20 years before both moving on to part-time, flexible working hours in their 40s.

But it brings up a bigger issue around the culture of working crazy-long hours. No one should be doing this – mothers, fathers, and non-parents alike. A person who is working constantly is not living their best life in any way, shape or form.

Instead, they’re working themselves to a literal and existential death.

We all know a person like this. Someone who works 14-hour days; who works all weekend too; who is on the laptop at night well after they’ve left the office; who just never switches off.

And we know that this comes at a cost. A massive cost.

To family life, to social life, to meaningful relationships, and to cultivating a balanced life with hobbies, interests and passions outside of work.

I read a phrase that sums it up perfectly: ultimately, you need to choose between your career resume and your obituary resume.

Because when you pass away, people will never talk about your big deals, your long hours, your industry awards or recognition.

They will talk about who you were as a person; what you contributed to your family, friends and community; what a great friend you were, or how you may have made a difference in someone’s life.