The Spanish Definition of Success

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I have officially been in Madrid for 55 days! As I begin my final week here in this beautiful city, my heart is heavy to think about leaving it. More than just seeing the tourist attractions and enjoying the incredible views and famous buildings, I will miss the little parts of every day life that I have carved for myself here. For example, I already miss the adorable café down the street from my apartment, with their delicious lemon muffins and cute cat-themed teapots (photo featured here in this blog). There are a few things that I am definitely looking forward to returning to in the United States: hot water in the shower, cooler temperatures, and fewer dogs allowed off of their leashes on the streets and sidewalks, to name a few examples. But overall, I am filled with a sense of longing for something that I still have, yet will soon miss in just a number of days.

My parents arrived in Madrid yesterday to visit me and fly home together, and with their arrival, I have seen firsthand a stark contrast between Spanish and American cultures. As I have been in Madrid for a number of weeks, I have slowly acclimated to the laid back lifestyle, late meals, and general air of relaxation. Coming directly from the fast paced New Jersey suburbs, my parents have been thrown for a loop by things that I have gotten used to. Having them around has been very interesting, as it is giving me a preview to the reverse culture shock that I am sure to experience when I come back to the United States.

One of the cultural differences that I have become accustomed to relates to this week’s prompt: professional success, or, success in the workforce. In the United States, professional success seems to be directly correlated with productivity. The salesperson who makes the most calls, the doctor who treats the most patients, the lawyer who wins the most cases: all of these serve as examples of successful professionals in the United States, who would earn this adjective of “successful” through their productivity at work.

In my experience at the children’s hospital, I have noticed less of an emphasis on productivity, and more of an influence on interpersonal relationships when it comes to defining success in a professional sense. Part of this may be a natural consequence of the field of my internship. Research shows that the therapeutic relationship, that is, the dynamic between the therapist and their patient, seems to be correlated with a greater success rate than any one specific type of psychological treatment. That is to say, it seems that having a better interpersonal relationship between therapist and patient is more important to the patient’s healing than selecting the “correct” plan of treatment. Thus, it is logical that being able to form interpersonal relationships goes hand in hand with obtaining professional success in the field of psychology. However, I have also seen an increase in emphasis on interpersonal relationships between coworkers at the hospital. The psychologists and psychiatrists who work in the same units are friends; they get coffee, ask about one another’s personal lives, and seem to generally enjoy one another’s company. One of the psychologists, however, does not appear to be as friendly as the others. I have never seen her go down to the cafeteria to get coffee with her coworkers, or engage in conversation beyond what is strictly related to a shared patient or case load. From what I have gathered from the native Spanish graduate student interns at the hospital, they view her as less successful professionally, as a result of her lack of fruitful interpersonal relationships with her coworkers.

This is definitely a change from the United States. In America, an unfriendly but productive psychologist would likely be seen as successful professionally (if not personally or socially). However, here in Madrid, the social and personal collide with the professional, to the point where it is nearly impossible to be successful at the latter without also obtaining some degree of success at the former. As a sociable person myself, I very much enjoy this way of considering success. A workspace with employees who are kind and friendly to one another, who focus on working together instead of competing against one another in the name of “productivity” is a much more enjoyable one to work and build a career in. I definitely intend to bring this mindset back to the United States as I work towards my goal of one day leading a research lab of my own, where I will be able to facilitate this type of collaborative, successful working environment.