Viewer Beware

International House Hunters…I’m so amused by the people who are willing to pack up and leave everything they have ever worked for to go somewhere new. I’m also envious.

JT and I were watching this show a couple weekends ago. Bad idea. This particular episode was about a woman out in LA who worked her ass off 80 hours a week and had nothing to show for it. Sure she was “successful” and good at what she did. She made some serious money but she didn’t feel like herself. That’s when she decided that it was time to break the chains and do something different, experience life and the world. She packed her bags and flew east to Spain where she bought a quaint apartment a block from the beach and in the heart of all of the city’s shops and cafes. She can still pick up freelance work over there, but she now has the chance to experience life, to take it all in and live.

During the show, her Realtor (Spanish, of course) said one line that really made me stop and think and I couldn’t agree more. “Americans live to work, while in Spain, we work to live,” was the line. A simple sentence, sure. And quite obvious as well. But when I pondered this idea, I couldn’t understand why we, as Americans, have chosen this path. OK, so you work 40, 50, 60, or 80 hours a week, but what do you have to show for it? Money? Stress? An over-sized home that could realistically house 5 families? A 60-inch TV glued to the wall? A fast car? A broken family? What?!

Of course, watching this show got me all riled up and ready to pack my bags and move my fiance, kitties, and myself to Germany.

Needless to say, I think that Americans are truly missing out on life. There is, shockingly enough, more to living than working nonstop with 2 weeks of vacation/sick time to pay a mortgage you couldn’t afford in the first place.

I feel lucky that at the still young age of 25 I’ve already been able to experience many things that most of my neighbors never have or never will. I have had the opportunity to work and study in Germany, to travel around Europe, and I met people from all walks of life in doing so. It can really open one’s eyes to meet people from other backgrounds and cultures, to learn a new language or try new cuisine. That’s what Americans are missing out on. Sure, we can score well on the SAT or pass our college courses in 4 years to get a high paying job out of school, but at what cost?

When I look now at some of the non-American students I studied together with in Germany, I notice this difference immediately. These students are doing internships or working in 2, 3, or 4 different countries. They speak at least 3 languages fluently and are usually working on a 4th or 5th. Most of them have completed a Master’s degree and may even be on their way to a PhD. They are proving that they are independent, open to change and new ideas, and always willing to adapt. With all of this, I truly believe they are making themselves more marketable than the average American, who typically speaks 1 language, graduates college with just a Bachelor’s degree, and has only left the country to party in Mexico for spring break. Sure, we may be winning the race in the short-term, but in the long-run, it seems to me we are shooting ourselves in the foot. In doing so, we’re missing out on a lot.

So, who’s right and who’s wrong? I don’t know and I don’t wish to delve into that topic at this point. I do, however, feel that we, as Americans, should open ours eyes. In America, we are bred to think that hard work equals success — that if you work hard now, you can retire comfortably at 65 and do all the things you never did while working. But like the ever-famous story of the Tortoise and the Hare, we need to realize that life is a marathon and not a sprint. There’s no need to rush into working, starting families, or being bogged down in debt. Who knows if you’ll even finish the marathon. Life should be enjoyed day-to-day, taking in each experience as a learning opportunity and seeking out new adventures outside of the daily drudgery of working 40+ hour weeks, no vacations, sitting in traffic, and running errands. It’s time for Americans to look beyond the almighty dollar and actually take in all that life and this world have to offer.

I originally started this blog about 3-4 months ago (I’m not good at blogging, I know), but this past week I read an article on cnn.com that solidified my thoughts again. The article (here) compares the American view on vacations from work versus the views of those in other advanced nations. It’s quite interesting to see the glaring difference between the US of A and some of our counterparts. Most interesting though are the comments. Take a look and enjoy!

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