The American Dream: Workaholism and its Externalities

Every Tuesday night, I come home from a 12-hour workday, feeling politically charged at 9pm. My International Marketing course is my favorite way to spend 3 hours, but it is also the most challenging for me. I suffer through extreme inner turmoil as I toss and turn over the externalities resulting from globalization.

Tonight, after watching Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next, we struggled with the question, “What does our country value?” In his true fashion, he highlights how other countries are thriving and points out how America keeps fucking up. While I certainly don’t agree with his extremism, it makes many good points about what we as Americans value.


Yes, I am a marketing student so often this model is used in the sense of consumer behavior, but the current economy has made us constant consumers, of products and of media. Once you get past the surface level of superficial crap, behavior begins to illuminate the beliefs and values supporting our actions, for better or for worse.

In Italy, the law insists on 8 weeks of paid vacation per year. In America, we get none. Unless you’re pretty successful, that vacation time is often spent thinking about the money you could be making if you were clocked in instead. In Italy, the middle class works less than 36 hours a week and no one works a second job. In France, children receive gourmet school lunches because that’s what is healthy and promotes their well-being — even in low-income neighborhoods. Have you seen the shit they serve in American cafeterias? In Slovenia, university students receive free education with zero student debt. Do you want to know how much student debt I have???? In Norway, no grade school is “better” than others — they are all great and no one uses reputations or standardized test scores to evaluate them. There’s also no homework. In high school, I took the ACT 3 times and the SAT 2 times, studying practice books like the Bible to improve my scores in hopes of getting into an Ivy (spoiler: I didn’t). In Portugal, drug use has been decriminalized and has lowered the amount of drug usage. Personally, both of my brothers combined have spent most of my life in prison for drug use and dealing, and they will likely never be able to find work ever again. I could go on and on about multiple systems in in Europe compared to America, but the bottom line is, our values are fucked.

What do we value? Success and hard work, of course. But at what cost?

I have been a workaholic for honestly as long as I can remember. Starting when I was 10, I would go to school, go to dance for 3-5 hours every night, do homework at 9pm, then wake up to repeat again. On the weekends, I would often go out of town for dance competitions or private tennis lessons. This remained the same in high school, except my weekends were filled with test prep and studying.*

(*It could be argued I was simply a loser with hardly any friends. This is probably true. My parents never forced me to be a workaholic, if not the opposite. After seeing the rest of my family struggle, I think I’ve always had an intrinsic motivation to learn from their mistakes. Either way, if I actually have a really shitty personality that everyone lowkey hates, I’m going to ignore it for the sake of my argument).

Fast forward to my first year post-grad, I am still working 3 jobs, making minimum wage and barely affording groceries and prescriptions, while attending grad school. Per typical Mary fashion, I’m taking more than the allowed credit hours because I “may as well get it done with sooner.” I work about 50 hours a week, I sleep about 50 hours a week, I’m in class 12 hours a week, I do homework for about 4 hours a week, and I exercise about 10 hours a week. If you wanna get real technical (because now I’m curious), I take about 20 hours to eat a week, I take about 14 hours a week to shower and dress and such, and my travel time is about 5 hours a week. Add those up and you get 165. There are 168 hours in a week. This means I have 3 hours to myself a week. A WEEK! You see my problem.

I’ve been surviving this by telling myself that it’s temporary. Soon enough, I’ll be working a full-time, better paying job that allows me to not have to work 3 jobs and I won’t be a student anymore. But will I still have the free time? What if a job requires me to work more than 40 hours a week? Or will I even know how to handle free time? Maybe I’ll be so bored and used to overworking myself, that I’ll add an extra job (let’s be real, I will be as a trainer) to help pay off my student loans more quickly.

When does it end? When do I finally say “enough is enough?” When will being still, enjoying myself, and cultivating relationships be enough for me to be happy?

I know I don’t prioritize my friends and family enough. I maintain constant virtual communication with too many people but I honestly don’t have the time to maintain a typical relationship with one good friend. I’m a shitty friend, so if you’re my friend, I thank you for being patient with me.

I think back to how I so desperately wanted to attend a top university, how I wanted to get the best career — all for what? Is prestige actually rewarding in any way?

Okay, stop playing Britney Spears’s “Lucky.” This is too much of a sob story, even for me. Basically, I need to cut the crap with myself, and I know I’m not the only one. Constantly reflect on your values, and determine if your current goals are helping you achieve those values. And try not to be an asshole while you’re doing it.

++ Mary K

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