A question for ya

A question for yaA couple of months ago I was giving a presentation to a new customer and during the Q&A session someone asked me a short simple question that stumped me completely. I’ve been thinking about it ever since and I still don’t have the answer, so now I’m passing the question on to you.

Here it is:

What is the opposite of work?

Please write a comment, I’d really like to know what you think about this.

31 thoughts on “A question for ya”

  1. Hi Alexander,

    I guess that really depends on how you describe “work”. I love my work, so for me work is not work at all, and I can find myself working in the evening for relaxation.
    But: The work I do for relaxation is always something which does not have a deadline, which does not have any set expectations and something which can challenge me.

    So I guess for me the opposite of work is simply “stuff I do to relax”.

  2. Wordnet defines work as “exert oneself by doing mental or physical work for a purpose or out of necessity”.

    As such the opposite of work can be several things:
    – Excerting yourself for no purpose or necesity (Sport or hobbies)
    – Not exerting yourself for a purpose (Sleep or recovery from illness)
    – Not exerting yourself for no purpose (Lazing about, procrastination)

  3. My evolving definition of work is “Stuff you HAVE to do, whether you want to or not, because you are not independently wealthy.”

    By that definition, anyone who LOVES their job doesn’t work. It may take a lot of their time and make demands on their energy and availability for other things, but if they wholeheartedly LOVE it, it isn’t work per se.

    Bob Dylan’s line about a person being a success “if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do” neatly encapsulates what I’m trying to get at here.

    So what is the opposite of work? For those who LOVE what they do, there probably isn’t much polarity between work and non-work activities. For the larger number of people who dislike / hate / just about tolerate their working lives, I suspect the answer would involve the word “compulsion.”

    For those people the opposite of work is “anything I am not compelled to do simply because I need the money.”

    Something like that?

  4. To me work is about building relationships with other people. So no work would for me mean no bosses, employees, colleagues, customers or competitors – Alle the people that (beside myself) force me to strive and question my way of thinking.

  5. Hi Alexander,

    The Dutch Chief Happiness Officer here ;-). The opposite of ‘work’ is ‘krow’. But now serious. It’s easy to say there is no opposite of work when you really like what you do and see your job as an integrated aspect of your life. In Dutch we’re always talking about the right balance between ‘werk en priv’, the best translation would be the balance between work-privat life. So I guess privat life or leasure time is the opposite of work. That is if you don’t count working in your garden or on your model train track :-)

    Kind regards, Luc Mutsaers

  6. Sloth. Different from laziness and idleness, both of which I see as healthy balancers for being focused and productive. Sloth is a willful neglect of opportunity and possibility, and the intentional energetic disengagement from living with purpose. I also call it hell.

  7. I prefer the sociological distinction myself: the opposite of work is leisure. Rest would be the opposite of activity and I don’t think the concept of work can be reduced to activity. I believe the productive aspect is the essential one. Work is productive activity. It usually involves some sort of compulsion, but it might be more appropriate to speak of necessity. In a paid job there is compulsion indeed, but not for other types of work, such as housekeeping (for one’s house) and child rearing, which are done simply because they’re necessary.

  8. Have to admit that it had me stumped too! I cheated by looking at the other answers and think I would have to agree with Franklin and go with
    sloth or indolence.

    Since work is effectively the application of energy and effort to a specific purpose the opposite would have to be either:-
    * Not expending the energy or effort and expecting to achieve the purpose ie. sloth;
    or
    * Expending energy and effort to no purpose i.e. chaos, which as Franklin again wisely points out could be hell!

  9. The opposite of work is boredom. :)

    Boredom is the pain we feel when we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing.

  10. Interesting question. Opposite of work is staying home with my kid for a day. After that, it becomes work, a work that can be frustrating, but you know that you’re doing that for someone you love. Let me share with you a good read on Maintaining a Balanced Lifestyle. Sometimes this is the key to appreciate your work, family, and your personal life. :)

  11. My first thoughts gravitated toward “play” and “rest” as others have offered. However, taking some time to ponder this question further, to mine some of it’s depths, I’ve settled on “trust” as my answer.

    Work is what I do to accomplish something. If I am to logically anticipate that thing being accomplished, yet without taking action myself to do so, I must either (1) be a fool and a sloth (again as others have already offered) or (2) trust that some other(s) with whom I have entrusted that accomplishment will succeed.

  12. I want to believe that work is something like ‘creating value’. However, i would like to resist any notion that would make the opposite of work something negative.

    Perhaps boredom would be a good opposite. There is value in boredom: it promotes creativity and it gives us time to reflect on our lives. Boredom means experiencing time and space, it throws us off-pace sometimes. And i take this to be a very healthy thing.

    Thank you, this was a very interesting question. All the answers were worth reading and contemplating as well.

  13. In a strict, economical sense “work” is those activities you employ and someone else wants you to pay you for that. In that same restricted definition ‘work’ and ‘capital’ are the main operators of human prosperity (again in an economic fashion). However, I guess most people in this world don’t like ‘work’, for them it means ‘labour': doing things somebody else is willing to pay for. Do you like to rise early and do brick-laying for 8 hours a day, five days a week?
    So, I believe ‘work’ is – in general – something most people don’t really like. For them, the opposite of work is indeed ‘leisure': doing things you like to do but which are not paid for (family, leisure, sports, etc.).
    Some privileged people love their ‘work': they are paid (or not!) and do what they like to do and where they are good in. So, in my view, ‘work’ is something you do what others like you to do (either paid or not). So, the opposite of ‘work’ is something you do what others do not appreciate or have no advantage of. An example is playing a solo computer game: barely no one likes you to do that (unless they are glad having you out-of-the-way for a while).
    Hope my point is clear.

  14. Chris, I believe there is zero value in boredom per se however, if boredom is accepted and not resisted, boredom goes away and you enter a form of solitude that is indeed very conductive to creativity. But this solitude is work again. :)

  15. In my opinion, I think that the opposite of “work” is “leisure”. In my most simple definition, work is something that you do in order to earn money. Yes, we sometimes do it because we want to. Yes, sometimes we work and don’t earn money. But I think the most basic concept of work, in the job sense, is something done out of necessity.

    Leisure, on the other hand, is what you do because you want to do it. There is no need. There is no consequence if you don’t do it. Of course I realize that these are not direct opposites. That would be like arguing whether or not hate or apathy is in fact the opposite of love.

    Of course, each individual may have his/her own definition of leisure. I’m sure that there is even a small percentage of the population that considers work to be leisurely. Well, good for them. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to hold out for weekends and holidays.

  16. Peter, interesting view! I think you are right, boredom might not have value per se. It depends on how the person experiencing boredom acts on the boredom.

    This is a really interesting subject. I have to meditate on this.. perhaps i should be bored before i can broaden my view on it. ;)

  17. Thank you each and everyone of you for your excellent and insightful comments.

    It’s no secret that the reason I asked this question is really to learn more about what WORK is by looking at its opposite and there are definitely some interesting clues in these comments.

    I will try to synthesize the main threads of the argument and will blog about it next week.

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