Redefining Leisure and Identity in a Work-Centric World

Total work, a state where life orbits around professional achievements. Parenthood, however, brought a seismic shift, challenging my work-defined identity and leading to a profound internal conflict. This narrative isn't just my story; it's a call to reevaluate our relationship with work.

Redefining Leisure and Identity in a Work-Centric World


"Total work is a state of being where work is the central and defining focus of life." - Michael Ashcroft [Source]

Do you feel work is defining your life and yourself?

I have been working mainly 8 hours daily and still I can see myself reflected on the total work state, how?

Well, I moved countries twice for work (more on this later), spent a lot of time and effort outside of work on my career and a long etc.

Society seems to reward the state of total work. We are expected to give our best hours and energy to our jobs. Weekend is defined in relation to the work week, vacations are defined in relation to work.

Is this the only way to go?

My version of total work

I have done a lot of things in life that now in retrospective I see are due to work being the defining focus of my life.

I have moved countries twice for work.
First from Estonia to Spain for a year, I saw this as a good opportunity for my career and to prove what I was capable of (plus nice to be a bit close to my family, even if I had to drive 6 hours).

Even during this one year I tried to fill my time to make the year even more productive by applying for a masters in Smart City in Girona. At the end this didn't happen since they didn't have enough students to start the studies. But I still read a lot of books about Lean manufacturing, and I also started a Lean blog with the hopes of being known in the Lean community.

Then after that one year my plan was to go back to Estonia, however from work they offered me to move to Finland to the HQs. I wanted to move back to Estonia but since it would be better for my career to be in the Headquarters and after some doubts I went with it and moved to Finland. It has been now 5+ years in Finland and I don't regret the move.

On top of the moves, I have done a lot with the goal to improve my career, this includes (none of them active or maintained by me anymore):

  • 2 different newsletters (Datata and Info refinery)
  • Lean blog (In Spanish)
  • Multiple data visualization challenges (30days map challenge, TidyTuesdays)
  • 1000+ notes with highlights from different articles/books read over multiple years. On topics such as: analytics (211 notes), productivity (203 notes), lean (162 notes), career (154 notes) , personal branding (128 note), company culture (92 notes), business, personal development, self improvement, entrepreneurship, etc.
  • Various workshops
  • Organizing a self-improvement meetup.
  • Went to mentorship program.
  • Joined multiple meetups to connect with like-minded people.
  • Being active in twitter in R community.
  • Creating my personal website, originally self-hosted.
  • I was part of the Building a Second brain live cohort.

At some time during Covid and when working 4 days/week I ended up in a burnout. I felt the pressure to use all that extra time to develop myself and find a new job. I was borderline obsessing about finding a more challenging job where I would learn more and have more work opportunities.

Work was probably the biggest part of my identity, so feeling unhappy/unfulfilled at work meant feeling quite miserable.

Work as identity

Parenthood came like a tsunami. Everything changed almost overnight. Suddenly my identity wasn't based on my career. I was also a father, this changed everything.

Even with such big change in my life I still kept a lot of the old habits.

For example, in the very limited free time I would read about work-related stuff. This might seem like a small thing, but I was paying the price.

I started to feel that my life is just my kid and work. And now I had to focus on those two, on much less sleep and energy.

I just couldn't work the same way without giving up what I most care about (my kid). This was a wake up call. And it didn't come without difficulties.

An internal conflict arose. I felt like I am supposed to focus on my career and work, yet I feel the most important thing is to take care of my kid. This happened specially after my parental leave in which I spent 2.5 amazing months connecting with my then almost 2 year old.

One of my chats with ChatGPT describes the feeling perfectly:

Part of you might still hold on to the old paradigm where professional success equates to personal worth, while another part recognizes the deep fulfillment and joy derived from being a present and engaged father. This duality can create a sense of dissonance, making it hard to concentrate as your values and priorities evolve.

Exhausting life

When Leisure ceases to exist, work becomes omnipresent. You can't properly distance yourself from work and give your brain a break. And feeling guilty if you are not productive is not uncommon neither.

When work defines your life, is easy to fall into the trap of self-improvement, which adds to the exhaustion. A constant optimization of oneself to be more productive, to reach further in your career.

This relentless pursuit can lead to a life where personal growth, relationships, and leisure are neglected in favor of work-related achievements.

Redefining leisure and identity

"Total work is what happens when leisure ceases to exist."
- Michael Ashcroft [Source]

Once I started to see all I mentioned above I realized that I needed to start by setting healthy boundaries, since most of the time the best way to address the stressors is by setting healthy boundaries (source).

In my case I determined the following hard boundaries would help me:

  • Not work-related things outside of working hours.
  • No work email/slack in my phone.
  • Do work as one chunk. Start at 8:30 and finish 16:30 . Try to stick to it as much as possible.
    • I even moved Thursdays to working afternoons (1pm-9pm) to accommodate for this and have possibility to join meetings with the US colleagues.

For many people it is actually easier than ever to fall into unhealthy boundaries.

"Many people are now seeing how technological progress has enabled a world where work can be divorced from the office, and married to the home."
- Lawrence Yeo [source]

There is always going to be more work than available time, we need to accept that we cannot realistically have our backlog cleared all the time. Overworking to try to do it all results in induced demand, where we signal that there is more capacity than existing, thus bringing even more work eventually.

Setting the boundaries and thinking about total work already helped me feel more relaxed, to be able to disconnect easier from work and not feeling guilty for just watching Netflix during the few breaks I have daily for myself.

Next step I embarked on was to do an information detox, with the goal of avoiding to see anything work related in the following sources:

  • Personal email
  • Youtube
  • Spotify podcasts
  • Read-later app

So I went to those and fiercely unsubscribed from work-related things. I also uninstalled Linkedin from my phone.

With that out of the way, now came the part of starting to find myself again:

“This is the main question, with what activity one’s leisure is filled." - Aristotle asserted

When you have spend many years so focused on your career it is easy to lose yourself. Your identity and self-worth has been tightly linked to your work and career. So you need to unlearn and find the things that make you excited again, and this redefinition can be difficult.

Which brings up the following question:

What is that I enjoy personally and that I want to pursue while ensuring I do it for me and not for my career. What does true leisure look like?

I still don't have an answer, but I know I want to read, write, learn things, create things. I have really enjoyed writing this post, going though my second brain (all quotes are taken from my highlights of different articles) and reflecting about life.

Finally, another question that has been in my mind is: What does good enough look like for my career?

This quote sums it up beautifully.

"Compared to the perfect or dream job, “good enough” is a more forgiving ideal. It doesn’t idealize what a job can offer nor accept that work must be endless toil. Fundamentally, good enough is an invitation to choose what sufficiency means to youperhaps it's a job that pays a certain wage, gets off at a certain hour, or gives you the time and energy to do what you love when you’re not working."
- Simone Stolzoff [source]

I take pride on my work, I want to perform at my job. But finding the good enough in a way that I feel content with and leaves space and energy for true leisure and family is what I am aiming for at this stage of life.

How do you define success for yourself in your current role? Consider both your professional responsibilities and personal values.


The concept of total work is not just about the number of hours we spend at our jobs.
It's about how deeply work has infiltrated every aspect of our lives.
It's about the loss of identity beyond our professional roles and the diminishing quality of our leisure.

Pursue a life outside of work. Cherish your personal interests. Set firm boundaries.

Only then we can have a well-rounded fulfilling life, where work is a part of who we are, but not the entirety.

This is just my personal story with Total work, yours will probably be totally different, anyhow I hope it made you reflect even a bit.

I want to finish with this beautiful quote.

"we shouldn’t just work less because it makes us better workers. We should work less because it makes us better people."
- Simone Stolzoff [source]