I went out with the girls the other night and towards the end what seemed like a speed dating extravaganza, it became very apparent to all of us. All anyone cared about asking was what we did for a living. Not what do you do in your spare time? What kind of music do you listen to? What are you reading? How do you guys know each other? Nothing that might actually peer into the essence of who we were as individuals. It was as if our professions were the end-all measurement of our being. Yikes.
It made me think about when I lived in Europe, with my senora, Concha. She woke up and went to work every morning and got home at about 2pm (in time for siesta), then went out with her friends and family, drank wine, socialized, shopped for the rest of her glorious day. Always back in time to make us dinner at 10 pm. I lived in her house for 6 months and never knew what exactly she did. Her life was defined by a totally different description. It didn’t matter how big her home was, or how much money she made. When I asked her once about her job, she just smiled and said she made money working for the government. She was the happiest woman I had ever met.
My dad (Mr. Corporate America) used to say that Europeans were lazy. No one ever works! And that, in a sense, is probably true. But maybe that’s just it. Maybe they got it right. We Americans are bred to believe that the only thing that defines us is our job. You are a lawyer. You are a Doctor. It’s not you are an outgoing athletic girl, who does marketing to make ends meet. We are bred to define every aspect of ourselves by how much shit we have. How big our houses are. How big our wedding rings are. And we are bred to be divorced, obese and chronically unhappy.
Today, we Americans pay at least 45% of our earnings away in taxes when you include sales tax, social security (which we’ll never see), income, etc. etc. We are working to support a system that supports everyone else. In socialist countries, like Spain, they are at least up front about it. But in Spain, people also get a mandatory month off in August. Six hour work days. A country-wide nap time. They never bring their work home with them. In fact, they never even talk about work. They are defined by their family name, not their profession.
But I couldn’t live in Spain. And I’m also not a socialist. I certainly don’t want to support lazy bottom feeders, people that refuse to take care of themselves, people who have 18 kids on welfare, and I don’t want to continue to support everyone’s unwillingness to change. I’m an American and I want to support myself.
It isn’t just the workforce that this culture of excess seeps into, either. It’s in every aspect of your lives. Marriage: people do everything they do in the dating world to eventually get married (and support the commercial wedding industry). And society feeds off of it. Once you’re married, you get a tax break and shared health care benefits, not to mention all the crap you get from your wedding. If you never get married or have kids, you get nothing but the label of sad and single. Self employment: so you work to break the mold and work for yourself. Welcome to insanely poor health care benefits unless you pay $300 a month, 15% in Social Security taxes, zero tax breaks, audit city, no paid vacation, and near impossibility to save a dime. Vacation: so you do work a steady job and you get a finite number of vacation days. You are forced to take them by a certain time or all that hard earned time off goes to the waste side. But it looks bad if you take those days at too much consistency or all at once. So are you truly encouraged to take time off or is it just another ploy to keep you working far over what you’re paid?
Retirement. That is the American dream. And it’s not because of all the shit you can buy. It’s because deep down, everyone’s ultimate goal is to not work. Even if you happily conform to the system for your entire life, you are only doing it to finally be able to have your time to yourself. And then you have the media saying over and over; Life is short. If life is so short, why do you have to spend 40 working years to obtain your dream? It seems like such a waste of your good time. We should retire first and then work when we’re old.
In this economy, change and restructuring are the two hottest things on the market. But are we really changing or just looking for new ways to facilitate our old habits? What if we truly did change, and found new ways to live comfortably without excess? Balance work and life. Stop conforming to what everyone else wants. Stop getting married so fricking young and buying ridiculous rings you can’t afford? Stop buying crap you don’t need and start going on more vacations. Right now we’re on a country-wide diet. But the key to any diet is sustainability.