The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

American Workaholics

Posted by Max Finkle on May 30, 2008

Some time ago I was enjoying a pint at a local watering hole and I happened to meet a couple of Englishmen. I must confess that I truly enjoy listening to the English accent, as being American it’s a rarity to hear it. Conversation took many a turn with cordial discussions of the recent weather, impassioned intercourse about local breweries, vociferous communion regarding recent politics, and inquisitions of occupation. All was cordial and agreeable until the latter subject came up. That was when one of them stated, “You Americans love to work. I don’t understand it. Every American I know just loves working.

That statement was cause for pause. “Americans love to work?” I repeated aghast. What a confounding prospect I thought. Surely this was an opportunity to enlighten them that that generalization was inaccurate. Then I proceeded to reintroduce myself as an American who doesn’t like to work. I was then asked how many hours I work a week. “Well, this week I worked about 60.”

“See! You love to work! At home we work our forty hours and are done with it for the week. Why work more than you have to?”

“Well, I have bills to pay. I make crummy wages, and have to work the extra to make ends meet.” was my reply. “I certainly don’t work so much because I enjoy it!”

That conversation has stuck with me for many years, because it enlightened me to my plight as an indebted American. I’ve had similar interactions with a gentleman from France who had as much disdain for my workaholic reputation I did for his slothful thirty-two hour work week, I dated a Polish woman who echoed the same sentiments, and have been told the same by others of various nationalities.

Growing up on a farm that good ol’ Yankee work ethic was instilled in me at a young age. It’s all I’ve ever known. I grew up working hard because that was what I had to do, them thar’ cows gotta be milked… As I’ve gotten older, I continue to work hard because I still have to, although for other reasons. I don’t have my stepfather standing over me, strap in hand, to motivate me, but another oppressive figure: that of “The Man.” I’m in a quagmire of debt, and to keep a roof over my head and food on the table, I’m obligated to continue working at the same job that I’m not entirely happy with, and again looking for additional work to make ends meet, all because I’ve extended myself beyond my means.

I dream of walking away from it all, in fact I’ve dreamed that for many years. Always I find reasons why I can’t. I have too much debt. I have to pay the rent. I have to buy food. I have to make the car payment… and the list goes on. Recently, my excuse has been that my family costs me so much. Then I sit and steam over the bills, and can’t figure out why my wife had to spend so much this month on this and that.

I’ve come to realize that I love my life, but I hate my lifestyle. I’m in the process of re-evaluating what is important to me, and I’m talking with my wife about what we can do to make those changes that we need to so that we can start truly enjoying our lives. To begin with, she’s going to start working again, and I am looking at finding additional work to supplement our income. Blogging is one of the ideas I thought I could try.

In addition, I’m reading “Your Money or Your Life” and beginning the trek towards Financial Independence. My goal is to prove those Englishmen wrong, and prove to them that not all Americans love to work. And to prove to myself that I can eventually work less and still feel fulfilled.

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