Work Hard, Play Hard

What does a balanced life actually look like?



modeled by Mark Halsell at Seaholm Residences

Photo by Weston Carls

There’s a big buzz in the Austin fitness scene regarding “balance” these days and what that entails. Talk with three fitness professionals, and you’ll get three different perspectives on what it means to achieve balance as it relates to the time you spend working toward wellness goals, and the time you spend enjoying all of the awesome leisure activities our fine city has to offer. 

I have personally swung on that pendulum—like a chandelier at times—since I began my wellness journey nearly a decade ago. Before then, I can with no shame say that I was an expert at the leisure life in Austin. It wasn’t until I began aspiring for more from my fitness that I decided to curb my partying a bit, which led to less and less time spent going out, as recovery became more of a priority. 

It’s definitely easier for me to make this change to focus on my goals now that I’ve been doing it for a while, but at first, suggesting to friends that I wouldn’t be drinking or ordering queso, or heading out to meet them after 10 p.m., was met with some major resistance. Interestingly, most of my friends are also somehow involved in the fitness industry in Austin, or are among some of the more active folks in our city. Many have the same outlook on their own wellness journey—“work hard, play hard.” And by play, I think it’s safe to say we’re talking about “partying” hard. Why wouldn’t they want to do this? Most of them kill it in their workouts and keep their diet super strict during the week so that they can party a bit on the weekends. On the surface it appears to be working for them. I mean, most of them look great, perform well for what they need, and are having fun. From the outside, they appear to be “balanced.” 

Now, I’m not putting anyone on blast here. I just know from my own experience and from that of many other fit pros I know that this full-throttle lifestyle can only last so long. What worked in my twenties just isn’t going to get me where I want to go in my thirties, forties, and beyond. I suppose you could say that I’m interested in longer-term legacy goals here. 

Perhaps balance in terms of working hard and partying hard for some folks simply cannot co-exist. I guess it all depends on the person, what they hope to achieve, and what they consider to be a thriving state of being. For some people, that means having a full social calendar. For others, that could mean accomplishing an athletic feat, or excelling at business or other relationships. While I think balance is important in the grand scheme of life, of course, I also think there is a time and a place for all things in life. There is a time for partying and leisure. There is a time for hard work and discipline. There is a time for socializing and there is a time for solitude. Rather than defining our lives by our week to week ratio of fun: work, perhaps it’s more useful to determine if what we are doing most each day, each week, each month is getting us closer to our ultimate objectives in life. Since it’s very hard to do all things well at once (we only have so much energy to divvy up), if we take time to focus on one thing now, one thing in a few weeks, one thing in a few months, and so on, we can go further than doing the minimum of everything just to get by. 

Yes, I’m suggesting that perhaps we need to work hard. And keep working hard until we achieve what we are seeking. Then play and celebrate, of course. 

Thinking there is something wrong with you for being serious about your goals or choosing to get to bed early while your friends are trekking across West 6th Street to the next bar of the night is just silly. I have never once regretted foregoing that party or happy hour in favor of making an investment in my growth whether that be in terms of saving money (financial growth), getting in a workout or getting to sleep early (wellness growth), spending time with friends and family in a more intimate setting (relationship growth), or taking a few hours to recharge all by myself (spiritual/emotional growth). I have, however, regretted that 6th vodka soda of the night. 

“Work Hard, Play Hard” Isn’t An Austinism

The “work hard, play hard” maxim has been said to have originated as early as the late 1800s, so your forefathers probably enjoyed a day-drink or two as well. And recently, its implied connection between dedicated effort and having fun has been scientifically studied. Among the 1,400 subjects studied, there appeared to be a particularly strong correlation between attraction to both legacy and leisure activities; those inclined to 'work hard' tend also to 'play hard.'

The researchers stated that the motivation to "work hard, play hard" could serve an evolutionary purpose in humans, by presenting a means to divert our attention from our own mortality. Unlike any other animals, humans are aware and concerned about our own self-impermanence. Therefore a legacy drive to work hard and a leisure drive to play hard and enjoy life have the potential to explain our ability to buffer this anxiety. Between these two drives, our ancestors were able to distract from their own self-impermanence, allowing them to cope with the anxiety and thus minimize its potential negative impact on reproductive success. So we actually use this maxim to help distract us from our our mortality in a way, which I think makes sense. If you’re interested in learning more about this study, you can find it online via The Open Psychology Journal, “Legacy, Leisure and the 'Work Hard—Play Hard' Hypothesis”. 

In closing, I think that while we may work hard and play hard to achieve some sort of balance in our lives, it’s important to make sure your regular behaviors are supporting your goals. And if they aren’t it’s time to make some shifts and refocus your energy on self-supporting behaviors. Enjoy the seasons of your life whether they be focused on working hard or playing hard. Worry less about trying to do all things at once and give your main goals the focus they need to be realized. The achievement of your goals will make the celebration even sweeter. 

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