Work Till You Drop!
by Sau-Wing Lam
I recall the years before my own early retirement, when on average I worked from 80 to 100 hours a week. Carrying work home was a ritual. Bringing work and a mobile phone while vacationing with the family was a given. Ironically, it was only during long overseas flights that I was able to have a few hours’ time for quiet relaxation. Being from Hong Kong where people rush around even though they are not late (or not going any where in particular), I was a consummate Type-A Workaholic. It was in my nature to be fiercely competitive in everything I did. I remember even when I was exercising by swimming laps in a local gym, I had to beat the stranger who was innocently swimming in the next lane! Later on I abandoned the relatively non-competitive sport of recreational swimming, and was hooked on the faster and more competitive game of squash.
No doubt I was only one of many millions of Type-A Workaholics whose addiction in life is their WORK. I was told that Japan is full of these workaholics, and it is estimated that each year over10,000 employees ranging from ordinary workers to business executives suffer karoshi—death from overwork. There is even a special term for suicide from overwork—karojisatsu. But Americans are quickly catching up.
A study titled “Key Indicators of the Labor Market 2001-2002” by the International Labor Organization pointed out that Americans work the longest hours in the industrialized world, even overtaking the Japanese. The report says on average Americans work 1,978 hours each year, compared to an average of 1,833 in 1980. The Japanese only work an average of 1,889 hours, having dropped from 2,100 hours a year in 1980. The report pointed out that American workers overtook the Japanese counterparts sometime during 1993.
The above statistics probably include mostly blue collar and office workers. Management executives and professionals most likely work even longer hours. Another survey of 5,000 executives conducted by Management Recruiters International, reported that 82% of these executives said they mix business with pleasure (i.e. taking work with them when they are on holidays). Many Americans have put in extra hours during the weekends and holidays, or at least maintain contacts with their work by beepers and mobile phones. I believe many would feel guilty for taking some time off. They feel that in order to get ahead they must work harder and harder, even if this means bringing incredible physical and mental stress to themselves and their families. If both a husband and wife worked at this breakneck speed, one can imagine the stress their work would bring to their marriage.
Turning to the booming Silicon Valley, I was told by some software-engineer friends that they consistently work an average of over 120 hours a week. Everybody is thinking to himself, “Times are good now; the job market is tight, it is now or never. More income, a more upscale house, and more stock options sure look attractive. This is the time to make every move to bolster your career and your personal net worth.” But the experience of many who make tremendous sacrifices to further their careers is ironically that while they are working and earning more, they are enjoying it less. It is not surprising. After all, how can one begin to enjoy the fruit of his labor if he can’t even find the time to do so? “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)
The sacrifice a workaholic makes is tremendous, and often times, the damages he inflicts upon himself and his family are irreparable. Medical journals have long warned that excessive stress is a quiet killer. Think about the busy executive who is struck by a fatal heart attack at age 48, or the hot-shot programmer who is burned out at age 32, or the son of the workaholic executive who gets into drugs and crimes because of parental neglect. For Christian parents, there is no greater tragedy than to bring children into this world, only to have their souls end up being lost eternally. How can one compensate such loss by gaining another zero in the net worth column or a doubling of the stock option shares?
No one on their deathbed has wished that they had spent more hours at the office.
It has been said, “No one on their deathbed has wished that they had spent more hours at the office.” The problem is that we do not have clear priorities in our lives. The greatest obstacle is our self—our pride, our sense of insecurity, and our all-consuming desire to enhance our careers and financial standing. Working until we drop is often our own choice rather than a company requirement. We are led to believe that achievement in our career and net worth is how success is defined in life. Yet these are but temporary things that evaporate when we leave this life. No one can ever take an ounce of his earthly success with him when he dies. This reminds me of a conversation between a man and John D. Rockefeller’s accountant. After the death of John D. Rockefeller, his accountant was asked how much wealth this prosperous tycoon left behind. His accountant simply answered, “All of it.”
I worked extremely hard until I was about 40 when I began to realize the importance of investing in eternity. God helped me re-set my value system and my life goals, thus opening up a very different page for the second half of my life. Only that which has eternal value truly deserves our
lifelong pursuit. But nothing is eternal unless it is related to an eternal God. The pursuit must be a spiritual one: finding the true God of the Universe, trusting His Son Jesus Christ as our personal Savior so that the barrier of sin is broken, and committing our lives to His Kingdom.