Work to Live or Live to Work?

150 150 Ellen Ensher
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By Christopher Page

Studying abroad in Rome this past month has been an eyeopening experience for me because it took me outside of the American model: good grades in high school, good college, good job. I don’t mean that this path is useless—and some people in Europe still follow this trajectory—but I have been able to also see people living happily who did not strictly adhere to this formula. Now, I never really completely bought into this as I’ve had many close calls of leaving school, but my parents would probably look at me funny. A therapist might say they were stunts. College is also an unbelievable way to push back having to make any real life choices for another four years. Now, I actual enjoy going to class and learning, but, at the same time, I can’t just ignore that it is a means to an end.

So I’m a finance major, soon to banker. Yay! From a glance, it looks like I’ve been successfully brainwashed. I’ve also never been able to see firsthand someone living without following this path. Living here has helped me to see people living happy lives without using this blueprint. I think the defining moment for this came when everyone from LMU was gone for the weekend and—after scouring Netflix for the tenth time—I decided to go out. I met a few Italian people and became their American plus-one. After talking about college in the U.S. for a little bit and telling them I was majoring in finance, they asked me why. I didn’t really have a good answer, and the next question was if everyone in America just went to college to make money. I mumbled a response like “I hope not,” but the conversation really stuck in my head. No one had ever asked me that before. It was a very straightforward question, but I couldn’t answer it. They were all in their mid-20s and part-time employment was the norm. They had their own apartment and went out together on the weekends, but “goal setting” was the farthest thing from their mind. Years of being indoctrinated into American career culture wanted me to label them losers, but they weren’t; they were really cool. Of course, they still had to work, but work was more of a minor annoyance than the main facet of their life.

This is very revealing when thinking about how much more engaged American workers are versus Italian workers. Italian workers were far less engaged than Americans at work, but maybe they are more engaged at home and socially. If you pair this idea with the vast difference in the “masculinity” dimension from Hofstede’s 6-D Model, then you can see that there are some huge differences between Italian and American work culture. Italy has a lower score in masculinity and this means that they value quality of life and caring for others more, while Americans value this less and value achievement more. There is a definitely a balance to be found between the two ends of this spectrum, and I am glad that I was able to see firsthand another style of work culture.

Everyone has to earn a living, but it doesn’t have to consume your whole life. There’s actually a great song by Joey Bada$$ about this called “Paper Trail$.” Here is it, Anyway, I guess my “main takeaway” from this semester has been that there are plenty of job paths with high paying salaries, but I’m going to start to focus instead on finding the job that I like to do. Especially after looking over our compensation reports and seeing how relatively easy it is to “just get by.” Like Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”