Is it “Life AFTER Work” or “Life WITHOUT Work?”

One day, two weeks ago, I was driving my wife to her workplace when I saw an ad on a huge billboard beside the expressway.

[Our country’s not big on billboards so when there’s one, it’s really hard to miss]

It nearly made me veer off into the highway railings!

Somehow, this one looked exceptionally ginormous because, unlike most other billboard ads (which tend to think that ‘more is more’ by packing in as many elements as they can), this one had just one simple question on it.

The question asked simply: “Do you believe in Life AFTER Work?”

The second I saw it, alarm bells started ringing in my head like I was in the middle of a Christmas service in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral! (hence my near-expressway accident!)

Those bells in my head were quickly followed by “What kind of question was that?!”

So, after I got off the expressway and parked my car, I decided to do some research.

It turned out this was a marketing campaign launched by Sentosa in June last year.

[Sentosa is our country’s only offshore fun-in-the-sun resort island that includes attractions that run the gamut from Madame Tussauds to Universal Studios, and of course the must-have beachfronts and resort hotels.]

The people behind the “Make Time” campaign surveyed 600 residents (mostly aged 25 to 50) on behalf of island owner, Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC).

The survey found that 57% of Singapore residents felt stuck in a “daily routine they were unable to get out of.” According to the survey, half the respondents polled were stressed by the thought of just doing nothing, with three in 10 saying they didn’t know how to relax. In addition, 74% wished they could spend more time with their families and loved ones.

A short promo film for the campaign was done too, as part of SDC’s publicity blitz. In it a typical Singaporean family was shown, living a fast pace existence which ultimately resulted in them suffering from burnout, then finding the answer in – you guessed it – a fun day out on the resort island.

While the intention of this commercial campaign wasn’t hard to figure out, it was the underlying assumption in that alarming question that rankled me that day.

It clearly assumed that work TRUMPS life and that for many, their work IS their life!

While there are certainly those lucky ones out there who have found their career ‘calling’, and who resonate with that too-tired T-shirt slogan we often see: “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life“, the majority of us don’t own that T-shirt thank you very much!

In a Harvard Business Review study last year, the conclusion was clear: most aren’t satisfied with their work, and a majority aren’t even actively engaged in whatever job they’re doing (a Mercer’s study further solidifies these findings in the context of my nation).

But even without these studies, anecdotal evidence and conversations about work in Singapore will nearly always serve up the following responses:

Busy busy busy. What else?!

“Very boring, but what to do?

Work is work lor.” (In Singapore, ‘lor’ is a local slang that functions like an emphatic exclamation mark at the end of many sentences)

Rarely do you hear someone extoll the virtues of his or her work, leaving me to wonder what to make of Sentosa’s question. If its underlying premise is to be believed, then life is truly the pits for many of us!

How did we get to such a point? A point where even with these sobering statistics, people clearly aren’t any the wiser. They seem to continue prioritising work over everything else, including themselves and their families. This despite the fact that it’s clear they don’t relish their choice.

Is “work” for them really “life”?

What I want to do here is take the premise inherent in SDC’s question one critical step forward and change their question altogether.

If this survey, the campaign’s underlying assumption, and the many research studies done on this matter hold true, then maybe the more important question should be:

“Do you believe there can be Life WITHOUT Work?”

One of the findings by SDC suggested that 50% were stressed at the prospect of doing nothing. Imagine that! Stressed at the prospect of doing nothing (because having no work is equated by these respondents to be doing nothing)?!

It almost sounds like the proverbial oxymoron!

To me, this means that industry has successfully pulled the wool over many a worker’s eye all these years. We’ve been fooled by our employers and paymasters into believing that busy making a living is true living.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it is not.

And I would urge folks who are trapped in this never-ending cycle of work-work-work to read Celeste Headlee‘s groundbreaking book “Do Nothing“. In it, the author/speaker/journalist showed evidence that there is merit in idleness (which is often mistaken for laziness).

And idleness is simply impossible if we are too busy letting work define life.

Had Newton not ‘idled’ under an apple tree, centuries might roll by without anyone discovering The Law of Gravity and Motion.

Even Einstein himself was a firm believer that a daydreaming mind’s ability to link things is our only path toward fresh ideas. In channeling Einstein’s take on this, author Bob Samples had pointedly concluded that “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.

Hey people! Life (or the ‘intuitive mind’) is not work (or the ‘rational mind’), and the former should not be subservient to the latter. “Doing nothing”, which is what those 50% surveyed stressed over, doesn’t mean that nothing’s being “done”.

I would argue that time spent idling, daydreaming, or just being with loved ones reap far deeper and more lasting rewards than the next paycheck, that next rung up the corporate ladder, or the next 1,000 “Likes” on your latest Facebook or Instagram post.

Believe it folks: Life is a gift.

Why else would countries everywhere be fighting this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic if this wasn’t so?

Why else would such a billboard ad nearly cost me my life that day on the road?

So the question should not be “Do you believe in life AFTER work?” but rather “Do you believe there can be Life WITHOUT Work?”

And to that, there should only be one answer; “YES!”



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