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Time. We all have it, and it’s our most precious human asset. We just need to choose how to spend it and not be apologetic for our choices.

Far too often I have asked someone an innocent question such as “Did you make this from scratch?” or “Can you help volunteer a couple hours over the weekend?” only to be met with the answer, "No, because I have a full-time job.” Of course, my questions were meant solely to spark participation and conversation. Instead, I’m always surprised when they are met with a defensive response and the conversation is shut down.

These occurrences are surprisingly more frequent with the ever-expanding array of services for hire, such as meal delivery, dog walkers, grocery shoppers and gardeners, to name a few. These services are supposed to free up our time for other higher-value discretionary activities, but it seems the quick answer to not being able to do something yourself is having a full-time job.

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I find this answer is especially prevalent during the holiday season, where I was met with more than a couple of smack-downs when I asked, “How is your holiday shopping going?” or “How do you make these canapés?” Instead of being simply told that the person bought the item, the conversation turns defensive and out comes the full-time job excuse.

For those of us with full-time jobs and kids to boot, it’s insulting and does a great disservice to many who admit to spending their time doing things they want to do. It’s a similar feeling to the never-ending response of “busy” to the question “How are things?” It’s a conversation stopper, especially if you (like I do) answer back with three or four things you are doing this week out of personal choice – none of them necessarily related to work.

Is the full-time job becoming just more full time? For some, I’m sure that the lines between work and life are being blurred by work-force reductions yet having continuing demands that don’t reduce. At the same time, it just seems to be becoming the easiest excuse, rather than saying “I do not want to do that, so I hired someone for that service," or “I bought the product instead, because it’s excellent.” Why are we continuing to use work as the excuse for not having done something? There should be no guilt, either imposed or self-inflicted.

In the mostly self-inflicted expectations of working people, everything that does not get done owes to work, including things we choose not to do for whatever reasons. For some it is playing host to a dinner party. For others, it is building and maintaining a garden. Instead of saying, “I really do not want to spend my time on these things,” we blame the job.

People who have a weekly or monthly housekeeper have one mostly because they do not want to spend productive time cleaning their house. It really has nothing to do with working full time – they just do not want to spend their free time house-cleaning.

A reason is not needed. What is needed is to stop giving work as an excuse and start owning your lifestyle choices. What is also needed is the acceptance of others’ choices. Usually, those people you’re talking to have the same full-time job and family commitments as you do. They just make different choices on how they spend their time and money.

Start admitting what you do not want to do, rather than saying you have to work more. There will be noticeable differences in your interaction with others. Instead of being reactive, which is based on using the quick work excuse, be responsive. At a dinner party you bought the food for, rather than having made it – just say “No, I chose to buy the food, giving me time to visit with my guests.” Or acknowledge that you chose to go hiking today rather than cook Canada’s next great dinner. Don’t use having a full-time job as the reason. On the flip side, if someone hires a service for something that you normally and happily enjoy doing yourself, do not judge their choices.

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Ultimately, stop using the full-time job and the children as a reason you cannot say yes to a question. Instead, use it as an opportunity to spark conversation and garner perspectives around the life choices we all make. Who knows? You may learn something from someone that you can apply to your full-time job.

Eileen Dooley is a principal and executive coach in the leadership practice of Odgers Berndtson, global executive search and leadership advisory firm.

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