Living a Life of Meaning: Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

Living a Life of Meaning: Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

Karen Ann Bulluck, Founder of Transcendence recently spoke to the Global CIO Institute on what it means to truly live a life of meaning. Bulluck, who spent years in the IT sector, shared, "have you ever been asked, “do you live to work or work to live?” Did you wonder what that meant?"

“Living to work” implies that your life is totally focused on work. Perhaps work is your passion, in which case, total focus might be a good thing. Or, it could mean that you have a job that requires total focus, twenty-four hours a day. 

“Working to live” implies that you are just doing your job to make the money that funds the rest of your life, that you are just going through the motions at work.  

In the IT world, after all, it’s very easy to slip into living to work. The demands on your time seem almost astronomical. Not only are there tight and critical project deadlines to be met but there is the myriad of crises, big and small, that demand immediate resolution. Systems must function twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with little or no downtime. Networks and websites must be constantly monitored for hackers and security breaches. The work is never-ending. 

And you probably love it. You probably love the challenge, the innovation, the wins. There is often a lot of joy in seeing users’ faces light up when they see how much a new piece of software or hardware can improve their work or their lives. 

But even if you truly love it, does that mean that you are living to work? And are you finding meaning in it?  

We often think that living a life of meaning requires big contributions, big gestures, things that change the world. We look at people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and others who have had an outsize impact on our world, and think, I should be more like that. Just writing code, managing a network, or being a CIO doesn’t contribute on that level.  

Or does it? 

I recently read a book, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski. In it, Mr. Jaworski discusses how much modern science demonstrates just how interconnected our world is. Science has proven that even the smallest changes at a molecular level can impact another molecule that may be halfway across the world.  

Take a moment to think about that. If a change that small can initiate a change that is that far-flung, how much more do the little actions we take have impacts that we don’t even see. 

If we are all that interconnected, then it’s in that connection, that interdependence that meaning lies. 

You know that better than most.  

After all, keeping people connected is the business of IT. Look at all the technology that has come into play during the pandemic to keep the world working, connecting, seeing one another even during lockdowns. Isn’t there meaning in that? 

So, maybe the answer to the question “are you living to work or working to live” is to change the question. 

Maybe the right question is: “Are you finding meaning and connection in your life?” If you are working to live, and you’re not finding meaning and connection in your work, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate. After all, you spend a lot of your waking hours at work. Is that how you really want to spend them? 

If you’re not finding meaning and connection in your life, have you: 

  • Asked yourself why? Or is this all you’ve ever done? 
  • Looked at your future and wondered what it would look like if you had more balance? 
  • Known someone who had a life-defining moment and only then decided to make changes? 

Living a life of meaning is easy . . . And it’s not. Because it means recognizing that connection is at the root of everything, that your actions have impacts that you’ll never see and never know. You’re already living a life of meaning, whether you recognize it or not. The challenge is to be aware of what that meaning is and what you want it to be. 

Karen Ann Bulluck is a coach/trusted advisor and founder of Transcendence: Living a Life of Meaning. Karen can be reached at or




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