High School Reunion in Amsterdam

This weekend I took a trip to Amsterdam, to some, the “Sin City” of the EU. Although I did not partake in any of that witnessing it firsthand was…interesting. I’ve probably said enough about this topic for a school blog, so I digress.

I took this trip with two of my closest friends from high school which made the memories I have from this trip even more special. The original plan was to meet up with my friend studying abroad in London over in Amsterdam, after our other friend from back home heard about this trip idea he saw the opportunity for him to knock out 3 European cities with one transatlantic flight. He stayed with my one friend in London for two nights, took a train with him to Amsterdam to meet up with me for two nights, and is then staying two nights in Dublin with me. A whole week with most of the time saving money couch surfing is pretty impressive if you ask me.

Amsterdam exceeded expectations on all fronts. The hostel that we stayed at was beautiful but didn’t break the bank. It was centrally located so we didn’t waste any time not being close to the canals. The city felt clean and young and a destination I could really see myself coming back to for a longer time in the future.

How does your host culture define success?

I think the one phrase that sums up the European attitude towards professional success is “work-life balance”. Where sometimes it can feel that in American people live to work, I very much witnessed a mentality of working to live. This sentiment does not invite the stereotype of a poor work ethic or laziness, instead signals a different set of standards that people measure success on.

In America it can feel that there is a sense of stigma in some professions, that somehow there are jobs that are beneath you because they require you to get your hands a bit dirty. I see this in the reluctance of some people to attend trade schools for professions like being a plumber or an electrician. With the right education these can be very lucrative careers and can be a great way to provide for yourself and perhaps a family in the future. Instead, many students better suited for that line of work instead swarm into other less “hirable” majors because that is what we believe will get us into the kind of respectable job that we see for ourselves. This definition of success that we have got into our heads has created a deficit in the jobs our society needs and a surplus in the kinds of jobs we just don’t.

Another way that I think American’s have a warped sense of professional ambitions is by looking at the way that many companies and industries have “gamified” the corporate ladder. As a culture we are addicted to instant gratification, this carries over into our work lives as well. With every few years we get a promotion that comes with its own fancy title and maybe a bit of a pay raise. With this title and the increasing presence of professional social media we are able to compare ourselves on a virtual leaderboard of our friends and acquaintances. This creates incentives that are different from one’s personal wellbeing and are instead driven by the competition to win amongst your fellow competitors sometimes with any expense being worth the reward of seeing your name at the top of the high score list.  

I don’t know what it is about here but somehow it feels different with my coworkers. If I could put my finger on it would be writing it down in a self-help book not in this blog.

There seems to be a sense that work is work and life is life and that not all parts of those two things need to be exactly synced up all the time. Maybe we are doing it wrong and they are doing it right, maybe it’s the other way around. I believe the answer is subjective and can be different for everyone. But I know that when I graduate and have a job you can be sure that I will using every single one of my vacation days.