America works too hard

Kris Long, Sports Editor

In France, a law making it illegal to eat lunch at your desk was recently repealed to allow for better social distancing. The decision was met with outrage by many. Critics balked at the idea of workers spending their breaks at their desks, where they may feel compelled to continue working. This anecdote will undoubtedly leave many American high school students baffled. 

We have grown up immersed in a workaday culture with our parents, teachers and media telling us that hard work leads to success, therefore the harder we work the better. The romanticization of hard work means the “best” employees work through lunch, stay late at the office and power through illness. The “best” students pull all-nighters, work through the weekends and manage a full slate of extracurriculars. 

All for what? To chase the “American Dream” of success through diligence and long hours. But we have forgotten what success really means.

The first assumption to disprove is that hard work leads to success. There are high-profile examples of self-made entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet, but it’s not a rule. Many people will find success without hard work and many hard workers will never find success. 60% of people on the Forbes 400  were born into wealth. Only 1 in 3 of those living in poverty will escape it. Work ethic won’t change those statistics. 

Americans are living in the myth of a meritocracy. We’re brought up to believe that we can do anything if we want it badly enough. It is more true here than elsewhere, but the position you were born into remains the biggest factor in where you will end up. The “American Dream” is just that, a dream, far from any reality. 

Maybe it’s this wide-eyed idealism that makes overwork such an issue in the United States. Unlike most other comparably rich nations, we don’t have paid sick leave, paid vacation or maternal leave. These are viewed as unnecessary and lazy. Americans work more hours than any other developed nation. We value work so highly we forget about everything else. 

This culture is fresh on the minds of high school students. School is often treated like a competition to see who can get into the best colleges, so they can get the best jobs, so they can, in turn, make a difference or money or both. But the reality is most of us won’t do either of these things. 

Setting these expectations is setting youth up to fail because we assume a good job means happiness. We should rather define success as we did previously. In the 1800s, when the modern conception of the American Dream took form, the point of success was that you didn’t have to work. You worked hard so that you could have leisure time. Right now, a good job might pay more but requires an employee’s complete dedication. They might be successful, but not happy.

It seems simple, but our ultimate goal as a society should be happiness. Being happy — for most people — means having a life outside of their job, even if they care about their career. Society needs to start respecting people’s right not to work. Employers shouldn’t expect their employees to live for their careers, and schools shouldn’t expect students to live for their grades and college resumes. We should stop judging one another for not working hard enough.

Let’s stop eating lunch at our desks. It isn’t going to make us any happier, any richer or give us a better life. Let’s take a break without feeling guilty for once.